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Despite the beleaguered political situation in the country, Sri Lanka will commence the eighth round of negotiations on the proposed Economic and Technology Corporation Agreement (ETCA) with India this week, a top official said.

A 17-member team led by National Negotiation Team Chief K. J. Weerasinghe will conduct discussions from 21 to 23 February in New Delhi, India, focusing on various aspects including goods and service, investments, custom cooperation and legal processes.

“The negotiations will evolve around many aspects of the proposed agreement and it will address many shortcomings that were in the previous free trade agreement (FTA) with India,” Development Strategies and International Trade Ministry Secretary Chandani Wijewardana told Daily FT.

According to Wijewardana, the discussions are still on the text level, where they are now seeking scope to progress on to the schedule levels.

“Once the text is finalised, the scope has to be analysed and only then it will proceed to schedule levels, which we hope will take some time to complete. We think that another four rounds of discussions will be held before proceeding to schedules,” she added.

The Sri Lankan negotiating team also include Finance Ministry Economic Advisor Deshal de Mel, Finance Ministry Fiscal Policy Department Director General K. A. Vimalenthirarajah, Finance Ministry Trade and Investment Policy Director General C. Jayasuriya as well as representatives from Development Strategies and International Trade Ministry, Department of Commerce, Attorney General’s Department, Board of Investments and Sri Lanka Customs. In addition, the team includes Dr. Ravi Ratnayake on quality standards and Tiuli Cooray as private sector observant. The negotiating team will leave Sri Lanka today (20 February).

In an address at a seminar titled ‘Expand Business Opportunities through Sri Lanka-Singapore FTA’, organised by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC) last week, National Negotiation Team Chief Negotiator K. J. Weerasinghe said: “Professional services category is very sensitive, not just with Singapore, but also looking at what we are going to do with India. We are going to New Delhi for ETCA negotiations next week.”

He said that they will be extremely sensitive to service liberalisation, particularly to professional services.

In addition, Weerasinghe also highlighted that they held discussions with IT and construction sector stakeholders last week.

“In fact, this morning (Friday 16 February) we had discussions with the IT sector, which was a productive meeting. They gave some good inputs on how to approach India negotiations on service liberalisation. Yesterday (Thursday 15 February) we had some consultation with construction industry,” he added.

Weerasinghe emphasised that during Sri Lanka – Singapore consultative process, the CCC organised specific consultation for four sectors to guide negotiations on IT, construction, maritime services and tourism sectors.

Within services, there has been a great deal of controversy and emotion regarding the opening up of professional services i.e. the natural movement of persons – Mode 4. However, Wijayawardhana said the government has indicated that it would not be opening up Mode 4.

In the meantime Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama also reiterated that Sri Lanka will continue to focus on streamlining investments, facilitation and forge ahead vital bilateral free trade and economic cooperation agreements to become more open and accessible to the world.

“Sri Lanka has embarked on a new chapter in its economic development journey, with the ongoing reforms in the macroeconomic, trade policy, foreign direct investment (FDI) and the overall business climate,” Samarawickrama said last week, in an address at the launch of national brand for ICT/BPM sector in Colombo.