Business representatives from India and Sri Lanka,
I am delighted to be here at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.
Thank you for coming here in such large numbers.
It is a real honour to visit Sri Lanka.
Over the course of these two days, I will meet people from all walks of life.
For me, this is one of the most important meetings in Sri Lanka.
This is because no matter how old and strong the relationship is, economic cooperation is often the locomotive that gives it momentum.
It is also important because for all of us in our region, the most important priority is transforming the lives of our people.
Our path will be determined by our economic choices and the quality of governance. But, business enterprises will remain critical for our success.
I often say that a nation`s fortunes are linked to its neighbourhood. There are many in India who would argue that India is too large to need her neighbours. There are many in our region who worry that India`s economic size will hurt them.
I disagree with both views.
For one, we all need a stable and peaceful neighbourhood to concentrate on national development.
I also believe that countries do better when the entire region moves together.
I said at the SAARC Summit that barriers of boundaries inhibit progress; international partnerships give it speed. That is why we see a rising tide of regional integration and cooperation across the world.
Our region is rich in resources. We constitute a large market. We complement each other. Therefore, our cooperation can be of huge benefit to all of us. There are already powerful examples in South Asia that show us that difference in size is no constraint to beneficial partnerships, if we use our strengths and seize our opportunities.
Bhutan benefits from hydropower exports to India. Nepal has significant manufacturing exports to India – in part driven by Indian investors. Infrastructure, energy, supply chains, traditional handicrafts, modern manufacturing, tourism and services – there are no limits to our possibilities.
I hardly need to tell this informed audience about the transformation unleashed in India over the past ten months. There is new purpose and clarity in our policies; a new vision for inclusive development; new standards in our governance; and, a new level of energy in our economy. Last quarter, India was the fastest growing global economy. We are confident that we can grow even faster.
The progress of one-sixth of humanity is a major economic opportunity for the world.
The global confidence in India has been restored. The world`s engagement with India is at a new level. But, the first claim on us should be that of India`s neighbours. And, I will be happy if India is a catalyst for economic growth in our own region. That is why I speak of a neighbourhood where trade, investment, ideas and people move easily across the borders.
And, as I said in Kathmandu, Nepal, in November, India will do its part for the region. We will work to integrate our markets more. We will make trade smoother and possible through the most direct routes. We will invest in regional connectivity. And, we will share our capabilities in science and technology with South Asia, from advanced medicines to disaster management or space science.
As a friend and neighbor, we attach the highest importance to Sri Lanka`s economic progress.
Sri Lanka is a nation of many achievements and great strengths. It has education, skills and enterprise. It has an excellent location. And, it has won peace now. Sri Lankan businesses have shown that they can compete with the best in the world. Our garments and tea industry know that!
We are pleased to be Sri Lanka`s largest trading partner and one its largest sources of investment. Our Free Trade Agreement in 2000 was a pioneering initiative in the region. It has given a big boost to our trade. Sri Lanka`s exports to India have grown sixteen times – yes, sixteen times – since then. This is impressive by any standards.
I know there are concerns here about the huge trade imbalance. I am prepared to work with you to address them. I want balanced growth in trade. We will try to make it easier and smoother for you to access the Indian market. That is part of my philosophy of ease of doing business in India. Our agreement on Customs cooperation is a step in that direction.
India is opening up to the world. We offer duty free access to Least Developed Countries, including in South Asia. And, India has Free Trade Agreements with ASEAN and others.
We should ensure that Sri Lanka does not fall behind in the changing and competitive world. That is why India and Sri Lanka should move boldly to conclude a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. You should also attract investments from India for exports to India. That should be the natural outcome of our proximity and your strengths.
Indian investments can also upgrade and expand your infrastructure. It is also natural that Indian investors are more likely to invest here because of familiarity and proximity. They are already here. And, I know that there are many large commitments in the pipeline. They are looking for your support.
During this visit, I am pleased with progress on Sampur Thermal Power Project and the Trincomalee Oil Farm. That is good for Sri Lanka`s energy security and for our partnership.
Sustainable development of the Ocean Economy can be a huge area for cooperation.
I also believe that when we connect the lives of people, we strengthen the bonds between nations. We have extended visa on arrival facility to Sri Lanka from April 14. We should do more to connect our countries by air and sea.
India and Sri Lanka were, in some ways, better connected in the past than we are now! In the past, a person could buy a rail ticket in Colombo and travel to Chennai by rail and ferry! Air India`s decision to launch direct flight between our capitals will help reverse that trend.
Tourism unites people and creates economic opportunities. India is already the biggest source of tourists here. We will work together to increase that flow.
In conclusion, let me return to the point I had made at the beginning. India`s progress gives us the ability to create opportunities for our neighbours. Our development partnership has injected commitments of 1.6 billion dollars in assistance from India. That has helped rebuild and upgrade infrastructure in Sri Lanka.
Today, we have offered another Line of Credit of about 318 million dollars for the railways sector. Reserve Bank of India has agreed to provide Central Bank of Sri Lanka a currency swap arrangement for 1.5 billion dollars. This will increase the stability of Sri Lankan Rupee.
It is not just in development partnership. We will also be supportive in advancing your commercial interests. I believe in Sri Lanka`s capabilities. We should engage more. We should open up to each other more.
We should move forward with greater belief in our own strengths; more trust in each other; and, with more confidence in the fruits of our partnership.
As I was saying before, Sri Lanka has the potential to be our most important economic partner in the region. We count on your support to make it happen.
Thank you and wish you all the best. Thank you very much.