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The 71st Anniversary of Sri Lanka’s Independence: Sri Lanka to Broaden and Deepen Friendly Relations with The ROK In 2019
The Embassy of Sri Lanka (Charge d’Affaires: Jagath Abeywarna, second from left), in collaboration with Ansan City (Mayor: Yoon Wha-sub, center) and the Sri Lankan community, celebrated the 71st Anniversary of Independence of Sri Lanka, at the Ansan Square Hotel in Ansan City on Feb. 6, with the participation more 500 Sri Lankans in Korea. The celebrations organized by the Embassy with the support of the Mahamevnawa Meditation Monastery, the Bank of Ceylon and the Sri Lankan community in Ansan.
Sri Lanka and the Republic of Korea (ROK) enjoy long-standing friendly relations based on historical and cultural links spanning centuries. In modern times, since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1977, there has been a steady expansion of bilateral relations in the political, economic and cultural spheres.
In terms of high-level visits, a state visit from Sri Lanka to the ROK took place in November 2017, while the foreign minister of the ROK visited Sri Lanka in March 2017. In 2015, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka visited the ROK and the Prime Minister of the ROK visited Sri Lanka in August 2013. These friendly ties are poised to be further strengthened this year.
The past year saw a heightened interest in bilateral ties with the official visit of the Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, Karu Jayasuriya, to the ROK in August 2018, on the invitation of the Speaker of the Korean National Assembly Moon Hee-sang.
During their visit, the Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka had bilateral meetings with the Prime Minister of the ROK, the Speaker of the Korean National Assembly and the Chief of the National Security Council (NSC).
The incoming visits by the Minister of Ports and Shipping, Mahinda Samara-singhe, in May 2018, and the Minister of Youth Affairs, Project Management and Southern Development, Sagala Ratna-yaka, in September 2018, focused on the elevation of bilateral relations, including investment, trade and employment between the two countries.
Other important incoming ministerial visits in 2018 included those of the Minister of Public Administration and Law and Order in July 2018 and Minister of Education in August 2018 to deepen existing collaboration in the respective spheres.
Last 2018 was of particular significance to bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and the ROK, as the two countries held the 2nd round of bilateral political con-sultations between the two ministries of foreign affairs in Sri Lanka in June 2018 after five years.
The delegation from the ROK to the Political Consultations was led by the First Vice Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Senior Officials of both Foreign Ministries participated in the discussions with several line agencies representing Sri Lanka. The gamut bilateral relations, including collaboration on trade, investment, tourism, agricul-ture, fisheries, science and technology, culture, environment and climate change, etc., were reviewed during the discus-sions.
Economic relations between Sri Lanka and the ROK are of the utmost importance. Sri Lanka is a lower middle-income country with a GDP per capita of US$4,065 and a popul-ation of 21 million. This beautiful island nation located at the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent has main-tained steady economic growth in the last 10 years.
In accordance with the Sri Lankan government's economic policy frame-work focused on promoting investment and exports, integration in global value chains, and creating a knowledge economy, the ROK is fast emerging as a country of prime focus with which to further expand economic ties.
There is a steady increase in bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and the ROK that currently stands at approximately US$400 million. The main export from Sri Lanka to the Republic of Korea is apparel, accounting for 40% of Sri Lanka's total export earnings from the ROK in 2017.
Sri Lanka is a producer of high-quality ethical apparel for top global brands, with 80% of its factories meeting global environmental and labor standards. Sri Lanka is the world's third largest exporter and fourth largest producer of tea, the world's largest producer of orthodox tea, and boasts the world's largest and oldest tea auction in the world.
The Ceylon 'Lion Logo' is synonymous with the highest quality tea in the world. Sri Lanka is an important exporter of rubber and rubber-based products. It is the world's largest exporter of high-quality industrial solid tires in the world. There also exists much potential to export ICT and BPO / BPM services, seafood and fisheries products, aquarium fish, fruit and vegetables, and floriculture products to the ROK.
Cooperation between the chambers of commerce of the two countries has provided an effective framework to further enhance trade and investment ties. MOUs exist between the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) and the Busan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The Board of Investment (BOI) of Sri Lanka has MOUs with the Small and Medium Business Corporation (SBC) of Korea and KOTRA.
In 2018, a delegation from the Korean National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives (NFFC) headed by its Chairman Kim Im-kweon visited Sri Lanka to strengthen cooperation between Sri Lanka and the ROK in the fisheries industry. The President of the Korea Agricultural Machinery Industry Cooperative (KAMICO) Dr. Shin- Gil KIM visited Sri Lanka in 2018 to explore the possibilities of establishing an agricultural equipment manufacturing consortium in Sri Lanka.
Given the potential for the expansion of trade and investment, an agreement on economic cooperation between Sri Lanka and the ROK was signed during the state visit of the President of Sri Lanka to the ROK in November 2017.
As per the agreement, the first meeting of the Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation was held in June 2018 in Sri Lanka. Matters relating to economic development including trade, invest-ment, tourism, infrastructure develop-ment, energy, ports, maritime and fisheries were discussed at the meeting.
The Republic of Korea is an important source of investment, including foreign direct invest-ment (FDI), to Sri Lanka. Korean invest- ment includes over 75 companies based in Sri Lanka and has generated more than 18,000 job opportunities in the country.
The possible target sectors for Korean investment in Sri Lanka include manu-facturing of electronics, electronic com-ponents, electrical equipment, light engineering, logistics and warehousing, ship/boat building and repairing, automotive parts manufacturing, development of industrial zones, agriculture and agro-based products, fish processing, rubber-based industries, textiles and textile accessories, tourism and leisure industry, infrastructure, and knowledge based industries including IT/BPM.
A major investment, infrastructure and development initiative is the Western Region Megapolis Planning Project (WRMPP) which hopes to develop the greater Colombo urban area in the Western province as a 'Megapolis', with the project valued at US$40 billion, to be implemented over a 15-year period, in an urban region with an 8.5 million population.
Ten thematic areas have been identified to be considered under the Megapolis Master Plan, including transport, energy, waste management, science and tech-nology, smart city development, Aero Maritime Trade Hub, etc. Over 150 development projects have been identified for implementation under this initiative. The project funding will be generated through private public partnerships.
The Megapolis Plan has opened a new and important chapter of cooperation between Sri Lanka and the ROK. In May 2016, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Korean Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT) Kang Ho-in and the Sri Lanka's Minister of Megapolis and Western Development Patali Champika Ranawaka.
Sri Lanka is a top tourist destination, and tourism is also a fast growing and lucrative sector to invest in. Lonely Planet has named Sri Lanka as the number one destination to visit in 2019. Sri Lanka also has the potential to attract more Korean tourists with the commencement of three direct flights a week by Korean Air between Seoul-Colombo from 2013.
There are also many daily connections between Sri Lanka and the ROK offered by other airlines. Korean tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka, which stood at 4,318 in 2010, have increased to 15,963 in 2017, registering 270% growth.
Development cooperation is an important aspect of the bilateral relation-ship with grant aid, loan aid and technical cooperation offered via the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and the Korea Exim Bank Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF).
Its importance is demonstrated by the fact that Sri Lanka stands as the third highest recipient of Korean ODA in terms of cumulative disbursements (US$481 million), and is placed at number five in terms of commitments (US$842 million), out of 52 developing countries.
Since 1990, the Korean government has provided concessional loans to Sri Lanka through the EDCF under which many important infra-structure projects have been completed, with several underway. This bilateral partnership has been further strength-ened with the increase in the EDCF from US$300 million to US$500 million for 2017-2019.
The total cumulative assistance provided by the KOICA for Sri Lanka from 1991 to 2017 stands at US$136 million. In 2017, the KOICA provided approximately US$8 million to strengthen economic and social infrastructure, develop human resources and enhance productivity in Sri Lanka.
A very important aspect of bilateral cooperation between Sri Lanka and the ROK is labor relations, with approxi-mately 28,000 Sri Lankan contractual migrant employees engaged in the manufacturing, construction and fisheries sectors under the Employment Permit System (EPS) in the ROK.
Another important dimension in the relations between two countries is education. There are over two hundred Sri Lankan students studying in over twenty leading universities in the ROK pursuing undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral/post-doctoral studies in science and engineering subjects as well as economics, business studies and the social sciences.
There is collaboration at the provincial and local government levels between the two countries with exchanges of visits. A close cooperation and friendship exists between Seoul City and City of Colombo under the Agreement on Friendship and Cooperation signed by the respective mayors of Seoul and Colombo in 2016.
In the cultural sphere, Buddhism forms an important aspect of the bilateral partnership. Historical Buddhist links between Sri Lanka and the ROK go back to the 5th century AD, and Sri Lankan and Korean Buddhist Orders have continued to maintain longstanding links and exchanges. The bilateral relations between the ROK and Sri Lanka continue to deepen gradually to a remarkable state.★
(Contributed by the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Seoul)