By Bushra Makhdoom
ISLAMABAD – President Asif Ali Zardari Friday called for stepping up efforts to fully realize the potential of Free Trade Agreement with Sri Lanka and building a mutually beneficial economic and trade partnership to jack up the bilateral trade from current $375 million to $2 billion target in the next three years.
The President urged for further exploring the currency swap agreement with Sri Lanka, which, he said would provide huge incentives to business houses in both the countries to actively explore and enhance business linkages as they use local currencies for trade.
The President said this during one-to-one meeting with his Sri Lankan counterpart, President Mahinda Rajapaksa followed by delegation level talks here at the Aiwan-e-Sadr. Those who were present during the delegation level meeting included among others Hina Rabbani Khar, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator A. Rehman Malik, Federal Minister for Interior, Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Advisor to Prime Minister on Finance, M. Salman Faruqui, Secretary General to the President, Saleem H Mandviwala, Salman Bashir, Foreign Secretary, Maj (R) Haroon Rashid, Special Secretary, Seema Ilahi Baloch, Pakistan Ambassador to Sri Lanka and other senior officials.
The Sri Lankan President was assisted by Prof G.L Peiris, Minister for External Affairs, Duminda Dissanayake, Deputy Minister, Sajin de Vass Gunawardena, Monitoring MP, Lalith Weerathunga, Secretary to the President, Karunatilaka Amunugama, Secretary Ministry of External Affairs, ACM Jayalath Weerakkody, Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Pakistan.
Briefing the media Spokesperson to the President Farhatullah Babar said matters regarding Pak-Sri Lankan bilateral relations, mutual cooperation with special reference to trade and commercial ties besides regional and international issues were discussed during the meeting.
The President welcomed President Mahinda Rajapaksa and members of delegation to the Presidency and expressed hope that the visit would help boost the bilateral ties between the peoples of the two countries which date back to the days of Buddhist civilization and have been marked by a shared interest in regional peace and stability and fight against militancy.
The President recalled his previous visit to Colombo in November 2010 said that the two countries have always enjoyed special bonds of affinity. He remarked that the relations have also been marked by a measure of consistency and commonality of views on important regional and global issues, the President said and added that the two countries have stood together and supported each other in all important matters concerning the two countries.
The President during the meeting called upon the business community and Chambers of Commerce of the two countries to fully avail the huge trade and business potential the two countries offer in diverse fields including finance and banking sector, science and technology, defence, agriculture, tourism, gems and Jewellery besides promoting cultural exchanges between the two countries.
The President proposed the establishment of a direct shipping service between the two countries which he said would help enhance the level of bilateral trade.
The President appreciated the Sri Lankan government for the important contribution made in assisting Pakistan to cope with the outbreak of Dengue fever last year. The President asked for mutual cooperation in this regard and proposed training of nurses to deal with such epidemic in future.
The President assured Pakistan's continued cooperation to Sri Lanka in various fields including defence and security.
The spokesperson said that the President emphasized that there was huge scope to increase cooperation and to further harness the enormous potential available for consolidating the bilateral partnership by building on shared values, enhancing connectivity between the two countries, increasing the synergies of their economies and, reinforcing the institutional framework for cooperation.
The President expressed satisfaction on the level of Pakistan- Sri Lankan close cooperation at the multilateral forums especially the UN and also at the SAARC level and emphasized on continued support to each other at regional and international fora.
The Spokesperson said that the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa thanked the President and the government of Pakistan for according warm welcome and said that Sri Lanka attaches great importance to its strategic and special relations with Pakistan and desires to further strengthen bilateral trade and commercial ties based on mutual respect, shared civilisational heritage and shared perceptions on a host of issues.
He thanked the President and government of Pakistan for the support and cooperation extended to Sri Lanka in curbing the menace of terrorism and added that Sri Lanka-Pakistan relations have matured and diversified with the passage of time, encompassing key areas of contemporary relevance.