Indian FS Jaishankar Holds Bilateral Talks With Sri Lanka

COLOMBO: In what appears to be a low-key, business-like visit to Sri Lanka, Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar on Tuesday had talks with his Lankan counterpart, Chitranganee Wagiswara, on the entire gamut of bilateral relations.

He also met the Minister for Development Strategies and International Trade Malik Samarawickrama; called on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in the evening; and had dinner with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera. On Wednesday, prior to his departure for New Delhi, Jaishankar will call on President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, a key supporter of the Sirisena government who has also been a long standing friend of India.

This is Jaishankar’s first stand-alone visit to Lanka as Foreign Secretary. According to officials, one of the main purposes of the visit is to prepare the ground for the India-Sri Lanka Joint Commission meeting to be held here on February 5 and 6. It is significant that Jaishankar met the Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Samarwickrama as India and Lanka had agreed to fast track negotiations on the Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement to be able to sign it by the middle of this year.

Faced with all-round opposition to the earlier proposal to go in for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), India proposed the ETCA instead. This struck a responsive chord in PM Wickremesinghe. In response to Lankan fears about the influx of Indian services personnel under CEPA, the ETCA restricts the entry of Indian services professions to only two fields.

India has also been concerned about the lack of enthusiasm in Lankan governments about starting the 500 MW coal power project in Sampur. The state-owned Indian railway construction company IRCON too has come under scrutiny by the Wickremesinghe government and a government panel had recently come out with an adverse report.