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Low awareness of trade policy intricacies
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Low awareness of trade policy intricacies

Biz leaders urged to suggest ‘offensive interests’:
PTAs with India, China, Singapore and Japan:

Business leaders concerned about Sri Lanka opening up the economy should think of ‘offensive interests’ – what sectors and product lines they want the other country, in a proposed trade deal, to open up and give preferential access to, according to Anushka Wijesinha, Chief Economist of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

The country’s transition to an economy that is more open to the world will not be easy, he said in a recent speech, noting that business leaders should think not only of protecting their interests but how their companies could gain from market access overseas.

“There will be some costs to this adjustment. It will be difficult for some sectors, and some businesses. But without it, we will be lost.”

Wijesinha said that he was surprised at the amount of conjecture in the complaints coming from business leaders who were concerned about trade opening. “But when I probed a little bit further I realized that very few could really point to specific issues and make specific suggestions.

Very few understood the intricacies of trade policy. Let’s work together to change this,” he said at the Sri Lanka-Indonesia Business Council Annual General Meeting.

The government has started or is about to start talks on several new free trade agreements including those with India, China, Singapore and Japan. The business community should be prepared with “solid arguments and good evidence,” Wijesinha said.

“It cannot only be about what industries, what product lines, what services sectors to keep closed, to protect. It must also be about what industries, what product lines, what services sectors we want the other party to open up, to give us preferential access to,” he said.

These are called ‘offensive interests’. Wijesinha said that at a recent trade meeting, a Department of Commerce official revealed that they rarely get submissions from Sri Lankan businesses on offensive interests. “Is it that our businesses can’t see the opportunity?” he asked. “Don’t believe they can compete? Haven’t paid enough attention to?”

The Singaporeans are ‘very different’ and proactive in their approach to trade agreements.

The initial trade negotiation team from Singapore, with which Sri Lanka is to sign a free trade agreement, visited Sri Lanka recently for informal talks.

“I was so impressed to hear that already - and this is even before talks had commenced - already the Singaporean business community have told the trade team what they would like to see opened up, what requests they have,” Wijesinha said.

“This really helps the negotiating team in pushing for those ‘offensive interests’ when they begin trade talks with the Sri Lankan government,” he said.

“How many of you have come up with a list of offensive interests with countries that Sri Lanka is planning on forging trade deals with? India, China, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Turkey. It’s time you did. These agreements are coming whether we like it or not.”

In trade liberalization, “there will be winners and there will be losers,” Wijesinha said, but added that the corporate sector must play an active role in identifying these and help government understand and take necessary action.


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