On 9th October 2020, Takshashila Institution hosted a #DeepWebinar focused on exploring ways forward for India-Srilanka relations. It included Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy (former Governor Central Bank of Sri Lanka and Senior Fellow at Pathfinder Foundation) and Prof. Rohan Gunaratna (Professor at Nanyang Technology University, Singapore) as panellists. They were joined by discussants Dr. Samatha Mallempati (Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs) and Dr. M. Mayilvaganan (Geopolitical & Strategic Analyst and professor, ISSSP, NIAS).
Anirudh Kanisetti, Associate Fellow at Takshashila Institution anchored the discussion as the host. The conversation began with deliberation on India-Sri Lanka economic relationship.
The first of the panellists to speak Dr Coomaraswamy began by highlighting that the economic relationship between India and Sri-Lanka is multifaceted. India is Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner, third-largest FDI source, and the largest source of tourism in recent years. On the issue of bilateral trade he further elaborated that given the large asymmetry in size between the two countries, principles of non-reciprocity and special & differential treatment need to underlie India-Sri Lanka economic relations. He remarked that Only 5% of India’s exports to Sri Lanka were on a preferential basis whereas nearly 64% of Sri Lanka’s exports to India are on a preferential basis. This is a good sign and more needs to be done to reduce non-trade barriers between the two countries. Dr Coomaraswamy also highlighted that post-pandemic India and Sri Lankan companies can work together to plug gaps in the world’s soon-to-be restructured supply chains which would lead to greater growth and prosperity.
The second panellist Prof. Gunaratna remarked that India must understand that after a 30-year-long Civil War, Sri Lanka needs to engage with other countries, including China, to rebuild its economy. But Sri Lanka will not allow China to threaten Indian security or strategic interests. He further remarked that there is a need for greater security and intelligence cooperation between the two countries to defend against threats posed by terror groups.
Responding to a question by the discussants about how the trust deficit between India and Sri Lanka can be bridged Dr Coomaraswamy highlighted the role India’s economic and humanitarian aid has played within Sri Lanka especially the all-island ambulance service that was gifted by India to Sri Lanka and is today greatly appreciated by the people of Sri Lanka.
Towards the end of the session, P.M. Heblikar (Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India) remarked that the purpose of the evening’s webinar was aimed at finding ways to strengthen trust-building measures between India and Sri Lanka and that it is imperative to move away from the shadow of the troubled 1980s period. An important element in this process should be a greater understanding of issues in the diplomatic, trade, commerce, and cultural spheres.
About the Pathfinder Foundation:
The Pathfinder Foundation (PF) is an independent, non-partisan research and advocacy think-tank that promotes market-oriented economic reforms and public-private partnerships, aimed at contributing towards effective social and economic development. In pursuit of these objectives, relation-building with Track I.5 and Track II institutions in the region has been an important aspect of PF’s work. As a result, the PF has developed partnerships with Bangladesh, China, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, Nepal, Norway, Singapore, the Russian Federation and the USA.
About the Takshashila Institution
The Takshashila Institution is an independent center for research and education in public policy. It is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation that advocates the values of freedom, openness, tolerance, pluralism and responsible citizenship. The Takshashila Institution seeks to transform India through better public policies, bridging the governance gap by developing better public servants, civil society leaders, professionals, and informed citizens. The video of the #DeepWebinar can be assessed on Takshashila Institution’s Youtube Channel.