June 12, Colombo: Buoyed by the outcomes of recently wrapped Sri Lankan President's state visit, Iran has now called for the pivotal Joint Economic Commission talks to be held in Tehran as early as in August, Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen said.
Iranian Ambassador to Sri Lanka Mohammad Zaerl Amirani meeting with Minister Bathiudeen on Monday has said that the State Visit by Sri Lankan delegation led by President Maithripala Sirisena to Teheran last month was "very good and productive".
Ambassador Amirani said the many Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) signed between the two countries in Tehran during President Sirisena's visit provide great benefits for Sri Lanka and proposed holding the Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation (JCEC) sooner in order to start on the MoUs.
"During this visit our President Hassan Rouhani also stressed the need to continue with the bilateral Joint Commission for Economic Co-operation (JCEC) meeting series; in this light as well as to start on the new MoUs, we now propose to hold the 12th JCEC in Tehran, ideally this August. Specific dates in August could be mutually decided. This JCEC can also help grow our trade numbers which need a boost," Ambassador Amirani said.
During President Sirisena's visit, Iran and Sri Lanka signed 5 MoUs on fight against drug trafficking, health, standardization, film industry and exchange of students.
According to the Sri Lanka Department of Commerce, total bilateral trade between the two countries last year was at $ 188 million - an increase of 4.5% over 2016's total of $ 180 million. The balance of trade was in favor of Sri Lanka as 94% of total trade ($ 177 million) were exports from Sri Lanka to Iran.
Among the leading exports from Sri Lanka to Iran in 2017 were Ceylon Tea (90%), Desiccated Coconut (3%), other vegetable mixtures (2%) and Defatted coconuts (1%).
Total imports were only $ 1 million and the leading four imports were fish, wires and cables, grapes and plastic items.
Until 2013 the imports were at a much higher rate amounting to $ 1.4 billion in 2011 and$ 660 million in 2012 due to petroleum imports from Iran but since 2013 there were no petroleum imports due to US sanctions on Iran causing a rapid fall in imports from Iran.
Minister Bathiudeen welcomed Ambassador Amirani's invitation and directed his officials to work on specific dates for the JCEC talks
Minister Bathiudeen appreciating the warm hospitality extended by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the government of Iran and the people of Iran towards the Sri Lankan delegation praised the many bilateral offers and concessions extended to Sri Lanka by Iran.
He added that the series of JCEC has been helpful in advancing the relations between the two countries in many ways.
"Since bulk of our exports are a single product tea (90% of exports in 2017) it is time to diversify our exports basket to Iran. August JCEC can help us in these," Minister Bathiudeen said.
The last JCEC -the 11th in the series - was held in Colombo in February 2016.