Amid simmering tension between India and Pakistan, Sri Lankan Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama today advocated the need for the two to find a way of working together if SAARC is keen to create “regional economic population”.
Stating that SAARC accounts for just 5 per cent of the total trade of the member countries, the minister said barriers like high cost of trading in the region and absence of regional value chain have hindered growth of economic co-operation.
“The fact is it is natural for neighbouring countries to trade more with each other, but… South Asia inter-regional trade is just 5 per cent of the total trade. It shows we are nowhere near where we want to be,” Samarawickrama said at the India Economic Summit here, jointly organised by WEF and CII.
“Of course, there are many obstacles like high cost trading within the region, absence of regional value chain… First of all, it is extremely important to have India and Pakistan, the two largest economies in the region, to find a way of working together.”
Asked if it was essential for India and Pakistan trade to pick up for rest of the countries to work with each other, he said: “I am not saying that, individually we have all the countries… Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan having reasonable growth. If we are looking at regional economic population, India and Pakistan will have to find a way of working together.”
On trade with India, the minister said both countries are looking at deepening their ties further.
“From Sri Lanka’s point of view, we have a free trade agreement with India and now, we are in the process of deepening that agreement. We are looking at a more comprehensive economic and technological cooperation that we hope is in place by the first quarter of the next year,” Samarawickrama said.
“At the same time, we are invigorating the FTA we have with Pakistan. So, from our point of view, we are looking at a market of 1.5 billion people,” he added.
The country is also working closely with China to bolster its economy. He clarified that it is not at the expense of any other country.
“We are discussing FTA with China. We hope to do it by March next year,” Samarawickrama added.