Sri Lanka’s Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade Malik Samarawickrama on Friday said that the government is planning to deepen bilateral relations with India through the Indo–Lanka Economic and Technology Co-operation Agreement (ETCA) and the intention of the government is to sign the Agreement by mid-2016.

Addressing the Invest in East 2016, the second International Investment Promotion Forum held at Hotel Galadari, Samarawickrema who is known to be an influential Minister said that the government is also in the process of deepening its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Pakistan.

“With preferential access to both the Indian and Pakistani markets, Sri Lanka can act as a bridge for investors from both countries to penetrate each other’s markets. Indian investors, who wish to have preferential access to Central Asia can also locate in Sri Lanka and have access to those markets through Pakistan, which has a regional cooperation agreement with those countries,” the Minister said also disclosing that the island nation is also negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with China.

Noting that the government is also exploring a possibility of signing FTAs with other countries, the Minister said that the government in addition is also assessing the merits of seeking to join the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“The agreements with China, India and Pakistan will give us preferential access to a market of almost 3 billion people. One could argue that this is our ‘Unique Selling Point’,” the Minister asserted.

Speaking on the potential for investment in the Eastern province, Samarawickrema said that Sri Lanka’s new land policies will open up opportunities for small farmers and commercial agriculture. Prospects are favourable for fruit and vegetable cultivation as well as dairy development to meet the rising needs of the rapidly growing tourism sector and for export to the Middle Eastern and Indian markets, he said.

Turning to other specific business opportunities, Samarawickrema noted that the Western Region Megapolis Project (WRMP) will generate massive investment opportunities for foreign private investment – both FDI and PPPs.

“Most of this investment will be private. There will be enormous opportunities for infrastructure development; housing and real estate building; financial and ICT enabled services; logistics; and high-tech manufacturing,” the Minister pointed out adding that the WRMP centered on five second-tier cities around the country, will be supplemented by a regionally balanced urban upliftment program to cater to the accelerated urbanization, which will be an inevitable consequence of a rapidly modernizing economy.