May 19, Colombo: Sri Lanka's Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen has called on the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries to collaborate rather than compete to boost the trade and investments.
"I believe more FDIs can be sourced for SAARC if we collaborate, rather than compete. Even trade within the SAARC countries is less than 6 percent," Minister Bathiudeen said addressing a press briefing held to announce the SAARC Investment Forum & Trade Fair in September.
He pointed out that Sri Lanka's historic Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) started not with any distant continents but in its own backyard-and more investments in South Asia can help stop the brain drain from the region where a quarter of global population are living.
The briefing was jointly organized by the Federation of Chambers of Commerce & Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCSL), and Islamabad based SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SAARCCCI).
At the session Islamabad's SAARCCCI presented a study report on "SAARC Investment Outlook" while FCCISL unveiled its report "Eliminating Non-Tariff Barriers on Sri Lanka to Improve Trade with SAARC Countries on Selected Products".
"SAARC Investment Outlook" manual by Islamabad's SAARCCCI introduces many prospective large scale investment opportunities available among SAARC members in heavy infrastructure, energy, tourism, and agro and dairy sectors.
"The Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement and Pakistan-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement allow more than 8000 product lines to be exported to these two markets at zero duty. Minister Bathiudeen and added that Sri Lanka is also a proud partner of South Asia Free Trade Agreement.
Minister Bathiudeen said the brain drain has become an issue in SAARC countries. "We cannot retain skills if we do not have investment," he said.
He pointed out that low time period given for SAARC visa is also impacting SAARC business. Lack of investment and integration in South Asia are also reasons for these obstacles. Therefore events such as this SAARC Investment Forum & Trade Fair not only help to expand investment and trade in the region but also create closer relations among members.
He said the SAARC Investment Forum is expected to welcome over 250 investors and will have local and foreign investors and entrepreneurs fund managers CEO's and owners of enterprises.
President of SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry Suraj Vaidya called for a stop to skills migration out of SAARC region. "Our skilled employees are leaving and working elsewhere. The reason is the low investment. Drawing more FDI can create more and better employment in the region," he said.