Zardari offers assistance to Sri Lanka in cement, sugar, dairy industry

COLOMBO: President Asif Ali Zardari Monday offered assistance to Sri Lanka in cement, sugar and dairy industry and urged Pakistani and Sri Lankan businesses to benefit from liberal trade policies of either country, through joint ventures and investment. Addressing a business forum, comprising leading business personalities and corporate leaders of Pakistan and Sri Lanka, here on the third day of his visit to the island nation in the Indian Ocean, the President said Pakistani investors were keen to explore several new sectors.The President said after a long and difficult struggle, Sri Lanka had finally overcome militancy and insurgency and said the country was poised for great things, and historic achievements.The President said both the countries had been a victim of terrorism and he was in a position to understand the pain of the people due to his personal experience.“I have no doubt that Sri Lanka will advance rapidly in the days to come. I am confident about it,” the President said.

President Zardari said Pakistan has been helping Sri Lanka in training of its security forces including the army and the police and can provide it security equipment. He said Pakistan can learn from Sri Lanka’s experiences as it was still fighting the war against terrorism.“When Pakistanis support their friends they do it with sincerity,” he added.The President lauded the resolve and determination of President Rajapaksa and the people of Sri Lanka and said,” today, the President’s economic policies – ‘Mahinda Chintana’ (Forward Vision) have revived the economy”.He noted Sri Lanka’s 8.5 percent GDP growth rate and said it was a testimony of the brilliant economic policies. “While the world was still recovering from global recession, Sri Lanka’s growth was second only to China,” he added.He said Sri Lanka was a gateway to billions of people and needed modern infrastructure to get more investment. He said Pakistan has largest reserves of cement raw material and could offer it to Sri Lanka to help build its infrastructure to attract foreign tourists and businessmen.The President said he firmly believed that the money of investors in any particular country needed to stay and benefit the local economy.

President Zardari proposed a high level conference of investors from either side to be jointly chaired by leaders from both the countries to give a final shape to their economic cooperation that might lead to better gains for private sectors of both the countries.The President said scoring a political victory or winning a military war was not enough.“We have other wars to win. We have to win the war against poverty, disease and underdevelopment. Our struggle for economic revival has just begun,” he added.President Zardari said economic revival and prosperity was the shared objective of Pakistan and Sri Lanka and the two countries must join hands for achieving this shared objective.“Now is the time to seize the initiative, avail the opportunity. We need to partner together to make our region, a hub of economic prosperity and social development,” the President said.President Zardari said the recent devastating floods had affected Pakistan’s economy and the government had taken measures for rehabilitation and reconstruction.“We have adopted prudent policies to bring the economy back on the track. The IMF (International Monetary Fund) has recently recognized these policies and extended a package.”

The President expressed confidence that Pakistan’s growth rate this year would be up to 4 to 5 percent and international economic monitoring agencies like World Bank were satisfied with the economic policies of the PPP government.“We are following a far-sighted economic plan to maintain the momentum of economic growth and by 2012, our economy is expected to regain its full momentum.”President Zardari said Pakistan has one of the most liberal trade and investment regimes in Asia. He said ease of doing business was improving and new avenues were being explored.President Zardari said proximity between the two countries could be used to great mutual benefit. He said the present bilateral trade volume of US$ 300 million does not reflect the true potential of trade between the two countries and could be raised easily to achieve the target of one billion dollars in the near future.“I urge the business communities to explore commercial opportunities especially in non-traditional sectors.”President Zardari said there was a huge potential for increased trade in; light engineering, fresh fruits and vegetables, processed goods, textiles, cement, pharmaceuticals, and industrial chemicals.

The President said Free Trade Agreement has provisions that can be used to enhanced trade and asked the business communities of both the countries to provide feedback to the respective governments and identify bottlenecks in the existing trade mechanism.He however pointed that in this regard closer cooperation in the financial and banking sectors was required and said closer linkages among the chambers and capital markets was needed.The President recalled his meetings with the Sri Lankan leadership where it was decided to reinvigorate the Joint Economic Commission.“We need to explore a new and unconventional phase of economic cooperation marked by barter trade, currency exchange and banking interchanges,” he said.“You can export your natural resources and we can ours so that we do not become a burden on our foreign exchange reserves,” he added.He said the Joint Economic Commission has been tasked to explore the possibilities of this new phase of economic cooperation.Pakistan can help Sri Lanka set up sugar and cement plants in return for import of Sri Lankan produce and manufactures in Pakistan in barter trade.“We should also have an agreement on currency swap to reduce pressure on our limited foreign exchange reserves,” he said and added “It will be a win-win situation for both of us,” he said.

He said the two countries have agreed to abolish the visa requirement for holders of diplomatic and official passports and agreed to start direct weekly air flights between the two countries from early next year.He mentioned offer to open a branch of the National Bank of Pakistan in Colombo on reciprocal basis and said cooperation in banking sector was important for enhancing trade and business.President Zardari said Pakistan has a rich Buddhist archaeological heritage which it has preserved and protected zealously.“Our archaeological heritage offers unparalleled religious tourism to the people of Sri Lanka, indeed to the people of near and far East.”Sri Lankan Minister for Trade and Industry briefed the President about the successful economic policies of the country that had made it the most sought after destination for international companies from around the world.

Chairman Board of Investment (BOI) Saleem Mandviwala said Pakistan was the second largest trading partner of Sri Lanka in Asia and mentioned they have a Free Trade Agreement, Bilateral Investments Treaty and Avoidance of Double Taxation to facilitate business communities.He said Pakistan has offered a soft credit of US 200 million to Sri Lanka for exporting, barter trade and easing its business transactions. He said the visa regime would be liberalized and business community facilitated to travel. He said the incentives offered by Pakistan to foreign investors are very similar to the ones by the Sri Lanka.The President also witnessed inking of Memoranda of Understanding between the two Federation of Chambers of Commerce to facilitate the two business communities. Sri Lankan Minister for Commerce and Trade Rishad Bathiupheem was also present – App