Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos has disclosed the government’s plans for playing a significant role in integrating trade in the Asian region by getting into a number of trade agreements.

He has said that negotiations are already under way to sign such special trade agreements with India, China and the European Union while there are plans to start negotiations with Japan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam and the ASEAN. Special trade agreements are also due to be signed with some selected states in South India such as Tamil Nadu, Andra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Kerala.

With the idea of converting Sri Lanka into a major economic centre in the Indian Ocean, plans are also afoot to develop two economic regions adjacent to Colombo Port and Hambantota Port/Airport while Trincomalee Port and the adjacent area will be developed with assistance from India and Singapore.

The whole thing appears to be a grand plan which could change the future of the country if everything goes well. In Sri Lanka’s case trade integration can be a key to success particularly because of its strategic location.

It is also significant that this announcement was made to coincide with the World Economic Forum at a time China is playing a key role there, mostly because Chinese investments in infrastructure development in Sri Lanka can be a catalyst in the whole exercise.
In this context it is also relevant to note that Sri Lanka has been a trading nation throughout its documented history and the country had occupied an important position in the trade circuit by the 2nd Century. From the 4th to the 7th Century AD, Sri Lanka had been the main trade emporium for East-West trade.

From the 6th Century to the 12th Century, Sri Lanka together with India and Srivijaya Empire acted as intermediaries for South East Asian trade. Exports from South East Asia were transported on Sri Lankan ships.Trade was therefore one of the earliest economic activities of the island. It was also the main source of wealth between 900 to 400 BC.

The attempts to spearhead regional trade through Sri Lanka may appear to some as a dream as the whole exercise is still at a very embryonic stage. However, the idea is worth pursuing vigorously and being on an important sea route that seems to be the only way for our country to exploit its locational advantage to the maximum.