Department of Commerce Acting Director General (DG) of Commerce Ananda Dharmapriya has been appointed the Chief Negotiator for all free-trade agreements (FTA) of Sri Lanka, excluding the China FTA.
Responding to an email query sent by us, the Department of Commerce confirmed that Dharmapriya is the Chief Negotiator for all FTAs, as appointed by the Cabinet.
Meanwhile, State Minister of Regional Co-operation Tharaka Balasuriya was recently appointed the Special Chief Negotiator for the China FTA.
All attempts to contact Minister of Trade Bandula Gunawardana and a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for further information proved futile.
Sri Lanka currently has several pending FTAs, including the China-Sri Lanka FTA, Singapore-Sri Lanka FTA, Sri Lanka-Thai FTA, and the Economic and Technology Co-operation Agreement (ETCA) with India. However, until the National Trade Policy is formulated, none of the pending FTAs would be signed.
Speaking to us on an earlier occasion, Minister Gunawardana said: “We do not have a national trade policy while many other countries do. It is imperative to have a trade policy when we are dealing with other countries. We have identified the need and we are in the process of formulating it.”
He added that the proposed FTAs will not be entered into until the relevant committee finalises the National Trade Policy. However, he added that the ongoing formulation of the policy will not be an impediment to resuming discussions with the foreign counterparts of the respective FTAs.
Accordingly, Gunawardana’s proposal to the Cabinet to appoint an expert committee representing all relevant parties to formulate a new national trade policy was approved on 2 September 2020.
Furthermore, Ministry of Trade Secretary Bhadranie Jayawardhana in June stated that the 25-member expert committee, along with the four subcommittees, was working hard to formulate the necessary documentation.
“After receiving public comments for the National Trade Policy recently, the committee members were reviewing and studying the consultation received. It is very time-consuming, as this formulation requires in-depth analyses and reviewing of literature of other countries, as well as all treaty agreements, world trade agreements, bilateral and unilateral agreements, and also regional activities,” Jayawardhana said.
When inquired as to why there was a delay since 2017, as formulating the National Trade Policy was in the pipeline since then, she explained that when the Cabinet first approved the formulation of the National Trade Policy, several individuals were involved, which later received a lot of criticism. It was then that a committee was appointed, she noted, adding that the Covid-19 pandemic was acting as another barrier at present.
This National Trade Policy was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers on 1 August 2017, under the former Government, by the then Ministry of Development, Strategies, and International Trade. The 2017 policy was to provide guidance on, amongst other subjects, FDIs, capacity-building, trade enhancement in and outside of the region, and access to international markets. Nevertheless, it was reported that the 2017 policy was not formulated in consultation with the relevant industries, thereby failing to achieve its desired results.