The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with India or CEPA as it is popularly known has been a sticking point in Indo-Lanka relations for quite some time. Despite its great economic relevance the subject is being hotly debated because of possible political and sociological implications.
The sensitive issues involved have been bloated excessively by parties that are likely to be affected in both countries. Its detractors have often looked at it from a micro point of view ignoring the larger benefits for the two countries.
Their only concern has been whether as a group or individually they would be adversely affected due to the possible competition when trade and economic barriers are relaxed between the two countries.
Fears have been expressed that CEPA would lead to a situation where local market would be flooded with Indian lawyers, accountants, doctors and business executives rendering most our people unemployed. This view point has gathered new momentum with the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) adding their opposition to the CEPA on to their list of demands threatening even strike action.
However, on the positive side the key consideration is the opening of the vast Indian market to Sri Lankan goods and services. While the fears are reasonable, the key to survival and future success as a nation is our ability to improve quality and competitiveness of our products and services and face up to the challenge. In the long run, if we do not open our borders and remain closed we will never learn to face competition and find it hard to survive in the global marketplace.
Opening of the Indian market to Sri Lankan products would definitely mean that European, US or any other investors who are setting up in Sri Lanka will have the opportunity of accessing the vast Indian market. In other words Sri Lanka would become a gateway to India. For this to happen the ground situation in Sri Lanka should be made more attractive to investors and we still have a long way to go in that direction.
The point to remember is that we can never evade competition in a global village where countries are getting interconnected culturally, linguistically and economically, faster than ever before. The best place to learn how to face such competition is one’s own neighbourhood and that is why we see regional economic and trade blocs being formed everywhere.
Our own SAARC is one such thing formed with much foresight and we can only face global competition by growing as a region and not by trying to survive alone.
Thus, it is not in the national interest to exaggerate only negative factors to stifle a future trade and investment agreement of a serious nature which will certainly benefit our country and the entire region.