Friday, January 21, 2022

Sri Lanka focuses on economic diplomacy after the pandemic

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COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is focusing on economic diplomacy, the new foreign minister has said in an interview with Arab News, as the country’s economy needs to rebound after two years of losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 caused the worst contraction in Sri Lanka’s post-independence history, as annual growth slid from 3.1 percent in 2018-19 to -3.6 percent in 2020. Revenue from tourism — one of the country’s main economic sectors — dropped by $3 billion over the first eight months of 2021, compared with the same period in 2018.
While the Sri Lankan economy is slowly picking up, economic diplomacy is going to be a key factor in its foreign policy.
“The country is returning to normalcy after the pandemic, we are reopening schools and foreign tourists have started coming to Sri Lanka. We are asking our foreign missions to focus on economic diplomacy to dwell on investments, trade and tourism,” Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris said in the interview earlier this week.
The minister, who took office three months ago, said Colombo does not have “exclusive relations with any particular country,” but expressed gratitude to Saudi Arabia for investing $1 billion in its infrastructure.
“We are thankful to Saudi Arabia for being a regular contributor to various infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka,” he said. “The projects included construction of the Epilepsy Hospital, National Trauma Center, Kinniya bridge — the longest bridge in the island — and the construction of roads, tanks and highways.”
Saudi Arabia has also been one of the key sources of remittance inflows from Sri Lankan expats.
“The Middle East is the home for 1.5 million migrant workers, which includes the largest concentration in the Kingdom,” Peiris said.
The UK Foreign Office said this week that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated in the first half of 2021, with an increased use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the minister said it was indeed time to amend the 42-year-old law.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act allows the detention of suspects for up to 18 months without charges. It also gives the Minister of Defense the power to restrict freedom of association and expression without the possibility of appeal.
“Since there is no provision to repeal this act, the parliament will consider amending some clauses to keep abreast of changes that have taken place in the recent times,” Peiris said. He said that if there have been rights violations, citizens are free to file their cases with the Supreme Court.
“We have fundamental rights jurisdiction in our Supreme Court,” he said. “Rule of law is well exercised and people go to courts whenever they feel that their rights are infringed.”

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