Sri Lankan President Sirisena’s India visit would help boost trade, relations
Apart from regular trade and industry, one area that businessmen from both nations can actively take part covers the gem and jewellery trade.  Sri Lanka is known for its gems while India is already an established leader in manufacture and export of gold jewellery
 
In his first overseas visit, after becoming President Maithripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have reaffirmed their mutual trust and respect and by extending support for each other.  In this short visit, and in their presence, both the nations witnessed the signing of three agreements: one on agricultural cooperation, memorandum of understanding on Nalanda University and on cultural cooperation.
 
And the icing of the cake has come in the form of Indo-Sri Lankan Civil Nuclear Co-operation Agreement, the first nuclear partnership for Sri Lanka with any country, and has brought both the countries closer together, as never before!  This Nuclear agreement, at the moment, covers the cooperation in transfer of exchange of knowledge, expertise, training in peaceful uses of nuclear energy including use of radio-isotopes, nuclear safety, radiation safety, security, disposal of radioactive waste, nuclear and radiological disaster mitigation and environmental protection.
 
This has strengthened the mutual trust and respect for each other, and both leaders have agreed to expand the defence and strategic cooperation to include Maldives, so as to bring about a "trilateral format" effect.  Prime Minister Modi is planning a reciprocal visit, sometimes in March, which is likely to include Maldives, but the dates have not yet been announced.
 
Apart from close trade relations that have increased in the recent years, India has also begun its involvement in the reconstruction activities envisaged in northern Sri Lanka.  The project, involving the construction of some 50,000 houses for Tamils, who got displaced during the unfortunate civil war that lasted over 30 years, and this will naturally include all other related infrastructural activities in the region.
 
President Sirisena, accompanied by his wife, will also plan to stop over at Tirupathi to visit the Balaji temple before returning back to Colombo.  He is also scheduled to visit China to meet President Xi Jinping, but the dates have not been announced.
 
There are couple of issues that would need the attention of both the leaders. The first major issue relates to the 100,000 odd Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who are presently in India, and mostly in Tamil Nadu.  They have to be repatriated back to Sri Lanka to start their lives afresh and actively get involved in the reconstruction activity in the north.  The second covers the frequent conflict of interests, by fishermen, on both sides.  Fortunately, both the leaders have felt that this problem needs to be solved by a constructive and humanitarian approach by mutual consent of the fishermen themselves, as it involves their day to day livelihood.
 
Apart from regular trade and industry, one area that businessmen from both nations can actively take part covers the Gem and Jewellery trade.  Sri Lanka is known for its gems; India is already an established leader in manufacture and export of gold jewellery.
 
A workable combination of both would bring wonders to the hard working people involved in this trade.  Another area that may be interest to both is the ship building and repair industry where the opportunities are large.
 
Both nations offer good opportunities for tourism industry involving historical sites, religious centres for pilgrimage and proximity to each other. 
 
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)
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    Will the Budget waive export duty on iron ore and impose duty on steel imports?

    Both the iron ore mining and steel industries are at cross roads. It is hoped that the Union Budget will provide the much needed relief to both industries

     

    For months now, the iron ore exporters have been seeking help from the Indian government to assist them in reviving mining industry. It may be remembered that, due to the Supreme Court ruling and subsequent relaxation, there has been some activity in this industry, though, press reports show that, as much as 12 million tonnes of iron ore, are lying in both Odisha and Goa ports for shipment.  In the meantime, the international price has taken a beating and, coupled with the economic slowdown and reduced off take by China, the iron ore prices have come down to about $61 a tonne.
     
    The Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI) has presented a memorandum, as reported in the press, that the government ought to waive the export duty on iron ore and actually impose duty on import of steel and pellets to 30%.  Both these moves will bring respite to the industry which has been suffering for long, for a variety of reasons.
    It may be noted that there was export duty on iron ore in 2008-09.  This was incrementally increased from 5% in 2009-10 to reach 30% by December 2011. This increase has made exports unviable, and the Chinese imports have practically stopped. Iron ore exports, which saw a high of 117.37 million tonnes in 2009-10 has gone down to touch 14.42 million tonnes by 2013-14.
     
    Due to fall in the international market price level, the state-owned NMDC (National Minerals Development Corporation) has also been constantly reviewing its prices, and recently brought down the price of lumps to Rs4,200 and Rs3,060 for fines per tonne. As mentioned above, the international price touched a low of $61, the lowest level in the last five years! 
     
    The domestic steel makers have taken advantage of this fall to import their needs and this has reached 6.51 million tonnes in the last nine months. The depreciated value of the Russian rouble against the US dollar has also made it cheaper to import steel from Russia!
     
    Because of the free trade agreement with Japan and South Korea, steel imports from these two countries have also increased, and the domestic industry has been demanding that the Government ought to impose an increased duty structure, for certain types of steel products, from the current 7.5% to 10% at least!  
     
    There are also allegations that poor quality steel is being imported into the country and this needs to be stopped by strict quality control measures.
     
    Domestic steel makers continue to prefer the use of lumps, as these have greater iron content and have not, so far, obtained the technology to use low grade fines with high grade lumps, imported or indigenous, to make steel. China with its state of art technology has literally mastered steel manufacturing from low grade fines with high grade lumps!  It may be remembered that China has been the biggest importer of Goa fine ore and mixed them with high grade ores from both Australia and Brazil to make the steel.
     
    The Iron Ore Exporters' Association, in the meantime, has pleaded with the government to waive the export duty on iron ore, 8 million tonnes of which are lying in Goa and 4 million tonnes in Odisha ports, so that they can monetise the ore and recover their cost and meet their obligations to their bankers.  
     
    Both the iron ore mining and steel industries are at cross roads. It is hoped that the Budget will provide the much needed relief to both. It is surprising that leading exporters of Goa fine ores have not given adequate thought to the realistic and practical idea of collaborating with the Chinese to put up a joint venture in Goa to use the ore from the state and high grade ores from indigenous or imported sources. They could have killed two birds in one stone!
     
    There is ample scope and time for ‘Make in India’ to happen, right here, in this industry! 
     
    (AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)
     
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    Can President Sirisena revive India-Sri Lanka trade relations?
    During the visit by Sri Lanka’s new President Sirisena, India must ensure that it enjoys the most favoured treatment, by keeping the Chinese dragon, preferred by former President Rajapakse, at bay!
     
    Sri Lanka’s newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena is expected to visit India next week. This will be his first foreign visit as President, and he is expected to arrive in New Delhi on 16th February. The exact itinerary has not yet been announced, but at least a day will be set aside by President Sirisena to visit Buddhist sites on a personal pilgrimage.  This visit is considered very significant as he has made it clear that he wishes to start his relations with India on a clean slate, and, in the process, wipe out any misunderstandings that his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapakse had helped to "create".
     
    It may be recalled that former President Mahinda Rajapakse had shown clear "tilt" towards China, though, to make amends, he had claimed that "India is a relative, while China is a friend". During his tenure, China made great inroads into Sri Lanka, and was even able to dock in their submarines, much to the discomfort of India. China received a number of projects during his regime.
     
    Sri Lanka’s new Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who also made his first foreign visit as Minister, reiterated the significance and importance attached to India, and in strengthening and improving bilateral ties with the country, as the relation between the two has been going on for more than 2,500 years.
     
    In the meanwhile, even before he arrives in India, next week, for discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Sri Lankan President has ordered a complete review of all Chinese infrastructural project contracts awarded to them under Rajapakse's tenure.  It must be remembered, that Sirisena is scheduled to visit China, sometimes in May this year, for which dates have not been finalized.  It is therefore unclear whether he will visit China before or after PM Modi visits that country!
     
    Since Narendra Modi will be reciprocating this visit, sometimes in March, it is hoped that both the leaders will have serious discussions through which India can extend all the needed help and assistance to Sri Lanka in rebuilding the war torn northern parts of that country so as to bring relief to the Tamil minority population that lives there.  There is tremendous scope for Indian involvement in total rebuilding activities in terms of infrastructure, road building, and construction of schools, bridges and assist the local population in setting up various small scale industries. India could supply a full range of steel products, agricultural implements, tractors, and even help in taping water resources in that country.
     
    This is an opportunity for India to truly show that it will remain a big brother to Sri Lanka in every possible way and they, in turn, must ensure India enjoys the most favoured treatment, by keeping the Dragon at bay!
     
    (AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)
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    COMMENTS

    vishal

    5 years ago

    past is past we should strive to develop our relations with Sri Lanka. Tanils in Sri Lanka are now better compared what it was during the period 1980 to 2009. Pakistan and China has a lot to gain by fomenting trouble for us in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka should understand this and should not spoil their relations with Indians on behalf of Tamils.

    Dr Anantha K Ramdas

    5 years ago

    It is regretable to note the comments offered by the SLNBC. The writer has been associated with Sri Lanka for about thirty years now and not as "naive" as they claim.

    By all means, every democratic country would love to visit and set up offices in this beautiful country with wonderful and friendly people. They are very hard working and down to earth, honest. India should do that do in the most competitive way possible.

    But all the countries named do not have the same blood relation that India has with Sri Lanka. That, SLNBC, should make a big difference. For reasons known to one and all, unfortunately, the northern Sri Lanka was neglected, and President Sirisena has shown his fairness in uplifting the masses down there. The Tamils in the north, no doubt, are the decendents of Tamil labour that went there to do the plantations due to British, but they are no longer to be treated as "Indian" Tamils, but Sri Lankan Tamil population with all rights and duties. So, let us not go into the history of how, why and what happened in the past. The best is start afresh and rebuild the nation, which is what, I think, President Sirisena wants to do. Please give him a chance.

    We have to live in peace, with honour and respect and build our countries, together.

    Dr Anantha K Ramdas

    5 years ago

    It is regretable to note the comments offered by the SLNBC. The writer has been associated with Sri Lanka for about thirty years now and not as "naive" as they claim.

    By all means, every democratic country would love to visit and set up offices in this beautiful country with wonderful and friendly people. They are very hard working and down to earth, honest. India should do that do in the most competitive way possible.

    But all the countries named do not have the same blood relation that India has with Sri Lanka. That, SLNBC, should make a big difference. For reasons known to one and all, unfortunately, the northern Sri Lanka was neglected, and President Sirisena has shown his fairness in uplifting the masses down there. The Tamils in the north, no doubt, are the decendents of Tamil labour that went there to do the plantations due to British, but they are no longer to be treated as "Indian" Tamils, but Sri Lankan Tamil population with all rights and duties. So, let us not go into the history of how, why and what happened in the past. The best is start afresh and rebuild the nation, which is what, I think, President Sirisena wants to do. Please give him a chance.

    We have to live in peace, with honour and respect and build our countries, together.

    SLNBC

    5 years ago

    Sri Lanka will be following Singapore type business, investment and development model and not aligned to any one nation or region. The writer is a bit naive and out of touch about globalization of modern business and finance. China, US, India, Japan, Germany etc can all be equal participants in economic development of region. Several US and Japanese companies are already looking at Sri Lanka as "Regional HQ" to manage business in India and rest of South Asia region.

    Sri Lanka National Business Council

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