India ready to help Sri Lanka’s quick economic recovery through promoting investments, connectivity

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COLOMBO: India on Thursday assured Sri Lanka that it stands ready to help the island nation’s quick economic recovery through promoting investments, connectivity and strengthening economic linkage as a four-member delegation led by Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra met the country’s top leadership, including President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, here.

Sri Lanka is facing the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948 which has led to an acute shortage of essential items like food, medicine, cooking gas and fuel across the country.

The delegation, which also included Ajay Seth, Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, V Anantha Nageswaran, Chief Economic Advisor, and Kartik Pande, Joint Secretary, Indian Ocean Region, first met President Rajapaksa.

During the call on President Rajapaksa, the Indian side thanked him for his commitment to the development of India-Sri Lanka bilateral relations.

“Both sides had a productive exchange of views on the current economic situation in Sri Lanka as well as India’s ongoing support,” the High Commission of India said in a press release here.

During the meeting, Kwatra told Rajapaksa that India, as a close friend, will extend its fullest support to Sri Lanka in overcoming the difficult situation, the newsfirst.lk website reported.

The delegation reviewed the already provided assistance in terms of fuel, medicine, fertiliser and other essentials and said the Indian government is committed to support Sri Lanka, the report said.

The delegation later met with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the two sides had an in-depth discussion on the Sri Lankan economy and efforts undertaken by the Government of Sri Lanka towards achieving economic recovery.

“In this context, both sides highlighted the importance of promoting India-Sri Lanka investment partnership including in the fields of infrastructure, connectivity, renewable energy and deepening economic linkages between the two countries,” the release said.

During the meetings, the Indian delegation underscored that the unprecedented recent economic, financial and humanitarian assistance of over USD 3.5 billion to the people of Sri Lanka was guided by Neighbourhood First’ policy and Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“The talks between the two sides were held in a frank, cordial and constructive manner,” the release said.

In a tweet, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said he had “a productive discussion” with the Indian delegation led by Foreign Secretary Kwatra.

“I look forward to stronger bilateral ties with India,” he tweeted.

The Foreign Secretary also had a separate meeting with his Sri Lankan counterpart, Ambassador Aruni Wijewardena. They agreed to work in close coordination towards strengthening diplomatic engagement and undertaking a bilateral visit at an early date, the release said.

It said the Sri Lankan side appreciated the consistent support of the Government and people of India over the past few years in a variety of fields such as counter-terrorism, maritime security, disaster management, humanitarian assistance, development cooperation, commercial engagement and people-to-people ties.

The development assistance extended by India stands at over USD 5 billion with more than USD 600 million being in grants, which include the Sri Lanka Unique Digital Identity Project. India continues to be the largest source of tourism for Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan side also welcomed the support extended by India during the meetings at the IMF in March this year and on subsequent occasions in different forums including regional and plurilateral organisations.

“They further acknowledged the initiatives taken by the Indian leadership in encouraging other countries to support Sri Lanka in dealing with the post-COVID normalization of economic activity,” it added.

During the meeting, the Indian delegation underlined that India stands ready to help Sri Lanka in quick economic recovery through promoting investments, connectivity and strengthening economic linkage, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi earlier tweeted.

“Reiterated Sri Lanka’s centrality to India’s #NeighbourhoodFirst policy. Both sides reaffirmed commitment to development of India-Lanka ties,” Bagchi said.

The Indian delegation’s visit coincides with the visit of the IMF delegation who are engaging Colombo for the proposed staff-level agreement which should eventuate with a possible bailout.

On Wednesday, Wickremesinghe in Parliament said India had stretched its maximum thus far by providing USD 4 billion worth of emergency assistance since January when the economic crisis came to bite.

He was banking on extended credit lines for further purchase of fuel.

The nearly-bankrupt country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026.

Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt stands at USD 51 billion.

The Indian credit lines since January have provided a lifeline to Sri Lanka amid growing public dissent over the worsening economic conditions.

Sri Lanka’s key need right now is to secure bridging finance until the realisation of the IMF facility, a local official said. India will continue to be a key partner in this endeavour, he added. (PTI)