A leading Sri Lankan trade chamber has welcomed the proposed Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India, saying it will widen bilateral economic engagement but underlined the need for clear communications in tackling issues faced by businesses here.

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce reaffirmed their complete support towards the agreement that "widens and deepens our economic engagement with India," while reiterating the need for systematic stakeholder consultations, clear and coherent communications, and firm commitment to tackling issues faced by businesses.

Any bilateral or regional agreement that Sri Lanka forges must be supportive of the country’s holistic economic interests must recognise size asymmetry of the economy and must take a phased approach to liberalisation where domestic regulatory systems need updating.

The ETCA agreement seeks to boost cooperation in technical areas, scientific expertise and research amongst institutions, boost standards of goods and services able to compete on the global market and improve opportunities for manpower training and human resource development.

The Chamber observed with concern the level of misinformed opposition proliferating in the media regarding the proposed ETCA, which can in part be attributed to the lack of robust information sharing and a systematic consultative process.

"We extend our support to the government to help more stakeholders in the private sector understand the gains and challenges of such a bilateral agreement, it said in a statement.

The Chamber said they also encourages technical experts from the government to play a more active role in educating the public, addressing concerns of the private sector, and providing relevant information in a timely manner.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament that by mid this year the agreement would be entered into despite opposition to it.

Lanka’s opposition has criticised the proposed trade deal with India as an attempt to "foreignise" the country’s economy and demanded that the shortcomings in the existing FTA should be sorted out before concluding the deal.

It said the agreement would be advantageous to India and inimical to Sri Lankan economic interests.
The Opposition demands that the agreement include goods, trade in services and investment.

In recent weeks the doctors’ trade union and several other employees’ organisations have taken to the streets to protest the ETCA with India.

Undoubtedly, there are valid concerns of an uneven playing field faced by Sri Lankan business in India. In order to build confidence, the Indian government should move quickly to clear some contentious issues facing Sri Lankan businesses that trade with India, the statement said.