Indian Foreign Secretary S.Jaishankar is to visit Sri Lanka with a business delegation this weekend, to promote Indian business and investment in the island in accordance with the Narendra Modi government’s policy of using diplomacy to promote India’s trade and investment abroad.
An unstated but important aim of the visit, which is to begin tomorrow, is to compete with China, which has a large economic footprint in Sri Lanka and other countries in India’s neighbourhood. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government in Sri Lanka has shed its initial reservations about Chinese investments and interests in Sri Lanka, and is going all out to woo Chinese investments in several big ticket infrastructure and industrial projects.
Indian officials however made it clear that Jaishankar will not be discussing the proposed Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with Sri Lanka.
ETCA, a controversial subject in Sri Lanka, is being negotiated by the Commerce Ministries of India and Sri Lanka and only two meetings have taken place so far. While the Sri Lankan government wants ETCA to be signed by December 2016, the Indians would like to proceed slower and are looking at May 2017 as the more realistic deadline for the conclusion of talks. Foreign Secretary Jaishankar and his team will interact with top Sri Lankan officials and businessmen over three days on possibilities of collaboration and cooperation in a wide range of fields.
India has offered to construct a 500 MW Liquefied Natural Gas-fuelled power plant at Kerawelapitiya north of Colombo in place of the cancelled coal fired power plant of the same capacity at Sampur in Eastern Lanka.
At Sampur, India proposes to set up solar energy plants and is awaiting the Sri Lankan government’s nod.
Likewise, India will be building highways linking Jaffna with Mannar; Mannar with Trincomalee via Vavunia; and Vavuniya with Colombo via Kurunegala.China, on the other hand, will be setting up an Industrial Zone spread over 15,000 acres in Hambantota and running the now idle Humbantota Port and Mattla Airport as commercial ventures on the basis of Public-Private Sector Partnership. China is already building the US$ 1.4 billion Colombo Port City. – New Indian Express