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Sunday, 7 February 2016





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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 ETCA.

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 Agreement).

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 ETCA.

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 this matter.

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 Lanka.

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 force.

“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 opened.

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.


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