July 10, Colombo: Belarus, a key member of upcoming Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), has offered Sri Lanka support in agriculture to achieve total food security, a goal Sri Lanka aims to reach by the year 2020.
Sri Lanka-Belarus official trade talks commenced in Colombo Wednesday (09 July) amidst avowed assertions from both sides towards forging sustainable trade links while making inroads to the huge 'New Asian; and upcoming Eurasian Union markets.
Addressing the opening session of the first ever Sri Lanka-Belarus official trade talks in Colombo yesterday, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus Valentin B. Rybakov said Belarus can help in agricultural areas since Belarus is one of the countries that ensure total food security to its people.
"We know from the development programme of Sri Lanka up to 2020 that one of your key interest/issues is food security. We definitely can help you in this," Rybakov asserted.
The Belarussian Minister added that Belarus is keen to expand the support in supplying potash fertilizer to Sri Lanka as well as in supporting other agricultural areas/sectors.
"We are also interested in supporting other agricultural areas/sectors since Belarus is one of the countries that ensure total food security to its people. Therefore we can help you in agriculture too," Rybakov pledged.
Belarus offered further help in industrial matters and agreed to continue their cooperation in education and investment.
"We can also definitely help in industrial matters -we are happy that we already started practical work in setting up a tractor assembly facility in Sri Lanka. We will also continue our cooperation in education-as you know there are sizeable numbers of Lankan students in Belarus. We like to have more Lanka students. The strategic areas of economic development for Belarus are based on two key economic principles-improving business environment and investment; we will definitely be happy to see more Lankan companies as our partners," Rybakov said.
Addressing the first ever Joint Economic Commission session, the head of the Sri Lankan delegation, Minister of Industry and Commerce of Sri Lanka Rishad Bathiyutheen said Belarus is Sri Lanka's first gateway to the promising EEU new single market and invited Belarus to take advantage of the opportunity for that country to enter the South Asian markets .
"Our Free Trade Agreements with Pakistan and India have opened gateways to a South Asian market of 1.2 billion. Equally important is Sri Lanka's forthcoming FTA with China. Therefore we invite you to partner with Sri Lanka and take advantage of the new Asian opportunity," Minister Bathiyutheen said.
"Sri Lanka and Belarus have been enjoying warm and cordial relations over the years based on mutual respect and shared values and I have no doubts that today's event would bring the ongoing cooperation efforts to a new level," said Minister Bathiyutheen.
He added that the visit by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Belarus in August 2013 is a clear sign of Sri Lanka's desire to build upon the already existing relations so that closer ties are forged.
The Minister noted that Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) which is scheduled to come into effect on 1 January 2015 creating a single economic market of 171 million people and Belarus is also Sri Lanka's first gateway to the promising new single market.
Bathiyutheen pointed out that the Government's objective is to make Sri Lanka a global hub.
He noted that out of the total of 231 exports destinations of Sri Lanka in 2013, Belarus ranked as the 77th export destination, and it has progressed from its lower Rank 81 in 2011.
"Less than one percent that is 0.05 percent, of our total exports are taken by Belarus. This shows that Belarus is still a virgin market for us with potentials," the Minister said.
Highlighting that the total bilateral trade between both countries stood at only US$ 14.24 million in 2013 and Sri Lanka was at the 69th rank among the countries which are exporting to Belarus in 2012, Bathiyutheen explained that there is "huge unrealized trade potentials between both countries that we jointly need to make use of."
Noting that Sri Lanka's exports to Belarus include tea with a share of about 94%, the Minister said Sri Lanka offers more than 3520 export products for Belarus importers and invited them to select from "our expanding basket of products".
He pointed out that the Agreements on Avoidance of Double Taxation and Prevention of Fiscal Evasions between Belarus and Sri Lanka signed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko in August 2013, can greatly help in improving bilateral trade.
He also invited investors from Belarus to partner with Sri Lanka and invest in more than 50 readymade investment projects offered by the Sri Lankan government. Investing in Sri Lanka to re-export is a promising option for investors from Belarus, he added.
Pointing out that Sri Lanka has free trade agreements with Pakistan and India in the South Asian region and preparing into an FTA with China, Minister Bathiyutheen said trade with Sri Lanka can open doors for Belarus to enter the Asian market of billions of people.
"In fact, our Free Trade Agreements with Pakistan and India have opened gateways to a South Asian market of over 1.2 billion people. Equally important is Sri Lanka's forthcoming FTA with China. This is in a background of our rising bilateral trade with China. China has also become one of the major development partners of Sri Lanka especially supporting us in infrastructure projects. Therefore we invite you to partner with Sri Lanka and take advantage of the "new Asian opportunity" -in that, accessing the two fast growing markets of the world at the same time from Sri Lanka."
Deputy Minister Rybakov agreed that the current bilateral trade levels between Belarus and Sri Lanka are practically negligible and as a the (unrealized) trade potential is huge.
"Belarus views Sri Lanka as an emerging trade partner and a very important partner in the South Asian region. We are definitely interested in establishing long term cooperation with SL in various areas. For us it is vital to diversify our trade and economic relations with the world. This part of the world -South Asia- is a "very-very important" region as it is becoming the global economic driver -especially when you say about a common market of billions of people and this sounds incredible to Belarus, which is a small country," Rybakov said.
The Belarussian Minister said the current session of the Joint Economic Commission is a result of President Rajapaksa's visit to Belarus in 2013 and Belarus will try to arrange a return visit to Sri Lanka by their head of state.
"The agreements that can be reached by this two day session will help us in formulating this return visit by our Head of State," he said.