Ties between India and Sri Lanka are poised to reach the next level, even as both sides agreed to sign an agreement on civil nuclear cooperation for peaceful uses. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit Sri Lanka next month.
The agreement was signed during the four-day visit of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, who succeeded Mahinda Rajapaksa in January. This is his first visit outside Sri Lanka after coming to power.
In an unprecedented move, both sides agreed to sign the civil nuclear energy deal, which seeks to facilitate cooperation in the transfer and exchange of knowledge and expertise, sharing of resources, capacity building and training of personnel in peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including use of radioisotopes, nuclear safety, radiation safety, nuclear security, radioactive waste management and nuclear and radiological disaster mitigation and environmental protection.
“The bilateral agreement on civil nuclear cooperation is yet another demonstration of our mutual trust,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing a joint press conference here with the Sri Lankan President. “This is the first such agreement Sri Lanka has signed. It opens new avenues for cooperation, including in areas like agriculture and healthcare.”
Under this deal, India will basically help Sri Lanka build its nuclear energy capacity and not supply nuclear reactors or uranium, officials told Business Standard.
Apparently, both sides also had the long-pending discussion for reviewing the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the preferential trading arrangement under the South Asia Free Trade Agreement under the framework of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc). The review has been stuck with Sri Lanka seeking greater access into the Indian markets.
India enjoys a trade surplus with the island nation, which has made its industry jittery on India. India’s exports to Sri Lanka reached $4.53 billion in 2013-14 while it imported goods worth $0.66 billion, according to official data.
On Monday, PM Modi tried to pacify their concerns and promised more investments by Indian entities there. “We are pleased to be Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner. I know that India enjoys a huge trade surplus. I expressed my support for a more balanced growth in trade in both directions. I conveyed our readiness to promote greater flow of Indian investments and tourists into Sri Lanka,” Modi said. He said both commerce secretaries would “meet soon” to review the deal. Modi is planning a visit there next month.
Officials said issues concerning the 13th Amendment, which seeks to revise the Sri Lanka constitution and give more power to the Tamils, was also discussed during the bilateral meet.
“I am eagerly looking forward to visiting his beautiful country in March … We are at a moment of an unprecedented opportunity to take our bilateral relations to a new level. His visit today set us firmly in that direction,” Modi said.
Over the issue of Indian fishermen being caught by the Sri Lankan authorities every now and then and same happening with their fishermen, the prime minister said an effective resolution to the matter should be reached by the fishermen’s associations for both sides to consider.