ETCA will hit engineers most - OEA chief
According to government sources, Information Technology, marine
services and ship-building industries would be initially opened to
Indian professionals under the proposed Indo-Lanka Economic and
Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA). Exposing Sri Lanka’s
Information Technology field to India may result in foreigners having
access to confidential and sensitive country specific information,
President, Sri Lankan Engineering Association, Palitha Abeywardena told
Sunday Observer Business.
It is extremely unwise to expose the two industries at a stage when
Sri Lanka’s younger generation is attentively pursuing careers in the
fields, he said.
The Sri Lankan Engineering Association is a member of the
Organization of Engineering Associations (OEA) which strongly opposes
The engineering sector in Sri Lanka could be considered the worst
affected through the ETCA, Abeywardena said.
Pointing out that they are not against international trade agreements
between countries, he stressed that the agreements must be studied and
discussed comprehensively before they are signed.
He said the opening of the IT and shipbuilding sectors to India may
cause harm to Sri Lanka’s national security. They also alleged that ETCA
is a mere name change of CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Participation
Governments under Presidents Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and
Mahinda Rajapaksa tried to ink CEPA but failed due to protests from
trade organisations and society. He said the pact to be signed this
month is a mere framework agreement.
“A framework agreement comprises only the basic elements. Additions
can be made to it later. If the authorities do not consider our
suggestions, we will have no option but to resolve it through joint
trade union action to safeguard the interests of our profession and
country,” Abeywardene said, vowing to deploy maximum pressure against
The OEA is the first ever collective of engineering associations to
launch a struggle against the ETCA.
Due to the strong opposition by the GMOA (Government Medical Officers
Association), the government was forced to step back and give an
assurance to the GMOA that the health sector related areas in the ETCA
will be removed. This is how the government reacts to a strong
professional body with huge bargaining power.
The government should consult veteran professionals before signing
such agreements. “This is not a mere trade agreement. This opens the
services sector of the country to India. It is a serious situation. We
are the professionals who shoulder the development work of the country
and our support must be enlisted in the drafting of the agreement. Else,
it will be based only on the opinions of a few people involved in
drafting it. Eventually, the agreement could be disastrous to the people
and the country,” he said.
The Government has invested heavily in improving youth skills in IT
and advanced industrial vocations as part of a national strategy to
create high income jobs for Sri Lankans. Sri Lanka produces almost 2,000
graduate engineers per year while the number in India stands around 1.5
million. The scenario of an open trade in service in technological
fields will certainly spell disaster to the budding technological
aspirations of Sri Lanka and its professionals, he said.
It’s important to be aware of the inclusion of international
arbitration clauses which overrides the local judicial system with
unbearable legal costs. Arbitration proceedings with a superpower in the
region will force us to negotiate on weaker terms in case of any dispute
resolution or claim and will directly result in questioning the
sovereignty of the State. A clear example from recent history is the
badly construed hedging agreement.
The OEA strongly opposes the signing of an open-ended ETCA Framework
Agreement this month without a detailed analysis of the socio-economic
impact on Sri Lanka and active participation, hands-on consultation of
Sri Lankan professionals.
The OEA said entering into an economic partnership with a larger and
much more diverse economy must be done carefully by Sri Lanka’s
professionals and the government in a collaborative and transparent
manner and not through a hurriedly executed, non-transparent, process
lead by external forces or their proxies. The Government must develop a
comprehensive bilateral trade policy for the nation (not just India) in
direct consultation with its professionals and stakeholders.
It is important to accelerate enactment of laws to regularise
professional practices in the country. Had the government shown the same
enthusiasm to pass Bills such as the Engineering Council Act we would
not have faced the predicament we may face under the ETCA.
India is one of the world’s biggest countries. The unemployed
population of India is two-fold of the population of Sri Lanka. Coming
to a broad agreement with a powerful country such as India without a
technical study is very dangerous. The OEA proposes to identify the
flaws of the country’s existing framework in the contexts of technology,
manpower and trade and address each issue systematically with hands-on
participation of professional organisations to derive timely solutions
instead of a carte blanche opening of the Sri Lankan professional
service to India.
The organisation hopes to distribute handbills throughout the country
within the next couple of weeks to create awareness about the agreement.
They have also sought a discussion with President Maithripala Sirisena
and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe again to find a solution for
International Trade and Development Minister, Malik Samarawickrama
told Sunday Observer Business, the ETCA which is to be inked mid this
year will not have any negative impact on any professionals or Sri
He said the government is responsible for economic development and
will not do anything detrimental to the country. We will not rush this
the agreement and will seek views of the business Chambers, business
community, professionals and even Opposition members.
The Minister said the framework agreement in this regard will be
signed this month. “We hope to sign the agreement in June.”
Samarawickrema said Sri Lanka can benefit after the agreement is
signed since it exposes Sri Lankan products and services to one of the
largest markets in the world. He also said that they do not have any
plans to permit the free movement of doctors between the two countries.
Members of the Young Lawyers Circle said that according to the
details of the agreement it is disastrous to Sri Lanka. This is not a
simple pact. “We also wish to tell the Government to stop signing this
agreement which may have a disastrous impact on Sri Lanka’s labour
“According to available details, the Government has been compelled to
sign this agreement secretly due to India’s urging. We demand that the
government open an intellectual discussion on this agreement. As young
lawyers, we demand that the government opens the agreement to the people
and consult the professionals,” they said.
Many students are looking forward to employment in the IT sector.
They argued that hordes of IT professionals from India may flock to Sri
Lanka to grab the job opportunities in the industry. They queried as to
what would happen to Sri Lankans then.
They also pointed out that the non-tariff barriers of the numerous
States in India may have an impact on the goods market when it is
Although the Government says the agreement would help Lankans to find
jobs in India with India’s unemployed rate amounting to 50 million, such
opportunities would not be possible. The pact will pave the way for
small scale Indian businessmen to do business in Sri Lanka and also
employ people from their country, they said.