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Harsha plays peacemaker at NCC’s heated CEPA forum

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Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Reconciliation, Policy Development and Economic Affairs Dr Harsha de Silva last week attempted to strike a balance between the proponents of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), opponents of CEPA and those who held the view that it should be signed only after present issues with the existing Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (SLFTA) with India were rectified.

The Deputy Minister who addressed the seminar organized by the National Chamber of Commerce (NCC) gave an assurance that their government will go ahead with the proposed agreement only if it is beneficial to the country and not otherwise. However, the Deputy Minister reiterated that flatly refusing the opportunity to discuss it could not only harm diplomatic relations with the neighboring country but also deprive the citizens of Sri Lanka of making use of the opportunity.

“As a policymaker I have to take a balanced viewpoint. I might have to go beyond personal views and measure and analyze for myself and play a key role on what to do with the proposed CEPA, the FTA with China and the proposed FTA with the United States. In my point of view, those who are for CEPA are taking a longer term technical argument while those taking a negative viewpoint are those based on past adverse experiences relating to the existing SLFTA. So in my viewpoint, if we are smart negotiators we could get this through to our advantage,” Dr. Harsha De Silva said at the forum highlighting that their government will, however, ‘not lock the agreement in a safe and keep it idling for years’

Meanwhile, Director General of Commerce R D S Kumararatne who also attended the seminar said that although the previous government had almost 13 rounds of discussions relating to CEPA with various stakeholders, the government at the time took a decision not to make the draft proposals in the agreement public due to secrecy clause.

“The decision to not put out the agreement was taken by the political hierarchy at the time,” the DG of Commerce disclosed.

On the other hand, the President of the NCC, Thilak Godamanna who made the opening remarks, said that the Chamber is not opposed to CEPA but existing issues pertaining to the SLFTA have to be rectified before CEPA is signed. The NCC President who moderated the panel discussion noted that the government should include all relevant stakeholders in the negotiations. Managing Director of the DSI Samson Group Kulatunga Rajapaksa who was a panelist at the forum shared the same viewpoint of the Chamber whilst Chairman of Nature’s Beauty Creation Samantha Kumarasinghe argued that the CEPA agreement should not be signed.

Meanwhile, Senior Economist at Hayleys Group PLC Deshal de Mel whilst acknowledging there were flaws in the existing SLFTA as a result of teething issues said that the suggestion that ‘floodgates will be open when bi-lateral agreements are signed is completely false’ as negotiators have the freedom to decide on the nature of liberalization of services.

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