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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary on Prime Minister’s ongoing visit to Sri Lanka (March 13, 2015)

March 13, 2015

Official Spokesperson:Good afternoon friends and thank you very much for being here this afternoon. As you are aware, we have just completed a fairly substantial between Prime Minister and President of Sri Lanka. We have, here with us, Foreign Secretary Dr. S. Jaishankar and on his right is Ms. Suchitra Durai who is the Joint Secretary concerned regarding Sri Lanka and Maldives. What we will do is, given the paucity of time, I’ll request the Foreign Secretary to run through the main issues in the discussion so that you have a clearer idea of what were the issues that were focused on following which we’ll answer two questions because we have to go out for another event immediately after that. With those introductory remarks, let me ask Foreign Secretary to make a few brief opening remarks.

Foreign Secretary:Thank you Akbar. I think what I’ll do is that I will try to summarize the discussions which took place this morning and most of you would have heard Prime Minister’s statement after the talks, so I don’t want to repeat that. I won’t cover the same ground, I assume you all know that. Essentially what the discussions really reviewed is the totality of our ties. I think you all are familiar that there are very broad based ties with a very close neighbour. We conveyed that we supported the democratic process in Sri Lanka, we supported the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka and a lot of time was spent really discussing bilateral cooperation possibilities and the challenges where they exist.

Now I would divide those issues into five or six clusters. The first cluster would be really India as an economic partner of Sri Lanka. We conveyed our willingness to consider extending a Line of Credit to the tune of US$ 318 million to Sri Lanka, mainly for railway projects. As some of you would know, we have a strong history of railway cooperation. We have helped to reconstruct the Southern Line, the Northern Line and the North-Western Line. This time, this Line of Credit would focus on buying rolling stocks as well as to renovate and repair some of the existing lines.

We also confirmed our willingness to extend the swap arrangement which would help stabilize Sri Lankan currency whenever it comes under stress. We had an earlier swap arrangement to the tune US$400 million, this has now been extended to US$1.5 billion.

On the economic side, investment issues were discussed. The Sri Lankan side very strongly welcomed more Indian investments in Sri Lanka as we did Sri Lankan investments in India. There was some discussion on the Free Trade Agreement, going beyond it to the ongoing discussions on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). Both of us agreed that we needed to speed it up. Commerce Secretary was here recently on this. So, we hope to move this on.

On the ocean economy side, we had agreed to constitute a Joint Task Force. Ocean economy is today a common theme with many of our partners in the Indian Ocean. Having just come to visits to Mauritius and Seychelles, I can tell you these were discussed at those destinations as well.

The second cluster is on the infrastructure side. The Sri Lankan government, the Sri Lankan President actually deep appreciation for what we have already cooperated on in the health sector. There are two hospitals in Vavuniya and Dikoya. On the port side, we had helped to reconstruct the KKS port, on the airport- the Palaali runway comes to mind. Prime Minister expressed the hope that Sampur Thermal Power Project . The environmental impact assessment has been completed. We are waiting public commence for that now so that it would start to move quickly.

A related area is the rehabilitation side. I mentioned railways but I would particularly emphasize housing. We have an ongoing program of constructing 50,000 houses. We’ve done 27,000. We hope to move the rest on in a fairly early schedule. There were some talks on whether we could really extend this on a much wider basis to other areas of Sri Lanka. I think we agreed to take those suggestions onboard and see and evaluate it.

On the energy side, I mentioned to you Sampoor, but there was an agreement. I am sure you are all familiar with the past history of the Trincomalee Tank Farm. So, there was an agreement that on the upper tank. We already operate 14 tanks in the Lower tank farm. But we have an interest today in operationalizing the Upper Tank Farm. So, on the Upper Tank Farm, it was agreed that we would constitute a Joint Task Force which would discuss early operationalization. That would be done as a Joint Venture. There was a lot of discussion on people-to-people relations. Prime Minister announced the electronic visa-on-arrival facility for Sri Lankans. You would have noted that we signed two agreements on youth affairs, one auditorium for the Ruhuna University. We hope that Air India starts direct flight. There was some discussion on resumption of ferries. There is a ferry service from Colombo to Tuticorin which was suspended essentially on viability issues and then there is a historical one between Talaimannar and Rameswaram which has some infrastructure, physical challenges which need to be addressed. So, those were discussed. I think certainly interest was there on how to get that operationalize. Prime Minister spoke about the huge interest in India on the Ramayana trail, on our commitment to have a Festival of India in Sri Lanka.

Then going back to the business side, we signed a customs agreement which would facilitate business cooperation. In addition Prime Minister referred to our interest in discussing pharmaceutical SEZ in Trincomalee. So that I think would be a fair summary of what happened this morning. I think in terms of the program, you’ve seen the talks and Prime Minister went to the Mahabodhi Society after that. We would now be moving on very shortly to a Lunch by the Prime Minister and then the Prime Minister’s address to the Parliament. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson:Given that we have just about five minutes, we’ll take just two questions and then if there are any others, we will handle them in a different format later on.

Question: You talked in the bilateral context not in multilateral context. How did the two principles view the situation in Maldives and how would India-Sri Lanka-Maldives (..inaudible..)? Can you give some idea on that?

Foreign secretary:There wasn’t a specific discussion of the situation in the Maldives but the India-Sri Lanka-Maldives triangle definitely came up for discussion. There was an interest on both sides on how to do more on the triangle. Again, I am diverting a bit but in Seychelles and Mauritius also we raised a possibility of those two countries considering the possibility of joining the triangle.

Question: CEPA could not happen. You said that talks are in progress. So, what are the hurdles in this?

Foreign Secretary: Well, I think, CEPA is a very complicated exercise which is why if you look at any two countries or entities negotiating a CEPA- it usually takes a long time. I think we are looking at a whole set of issues. Some of it pertains to trade, some of it pertains to investment conditions but I think considering right now that it is an ongoing discussion, I don’t think it would be fair of me to really say in public that we are stuck on a specific issue because we may not be stuck there in the next round. I am not trying to avoid it, it is just that I don’t think it would be prudent to (..inaudible..) with you those details.

Official Spokesperson:Thank you very much. With that we come to the end of this media interaction.

(Concluded)


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