Qatar-Lanka ties ‘set to get a boost’

Gulf Times | 26 January 2009

By Arvind Nair

The recent visit by the Sri Lankan foreign minister to Doha could change the dynamics of bilateral relations, Ambassador Vijayasiri Padukkage has said.

When the minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, visited Qatar earlier this month, the main focus of talks with the Qatari authorities was trade and investment, shifting away from labour issues, Padukkage said.

“We think that this visit is very important. It is the turning point of our relations with Qatar with more emphasis on trade and commerce”.

Currently, bilateral trade is negligent, though Sri Lanka’s exports to Qatar did grow from $1mn in 2002 to $4mn in 2007. Imports from Qatar also went up from $15mn in 2002 to $47mn in 2007.

Investments are virtually non-existent except for some private sector activities.

The two countries do have an agreement on avoidance of double taxation, the ambassador noted.

Both the countries enjoy “excellent bilateral relations, going back to the seventh century”.

Qatar could invest in the island’s agricultural sector, the ambassador pointed out.

“Sri Lanka is basically an agricultural country and conditions are good for farming. To ensure future food security, co-operation in the agriculture sector is very important and we are trying to promote Qatari investment in the farm sector.”

In the Eastern province, he said, there was plenty of vacant arable land where farms can be established.

Qatar could also invest in Sri Lanka’s infrastructure development.

“Post-conflict, we have to develop the country economically. This has already begun.”

Besides bilateral relations, the two countries also had good co-operation in international fora. Both are developing countries and both are members of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Besides, Qatar has agreed to support Sri Lanka’s application for observer status at the Organisation for Islamic Conference (OIC) and Sri Lanka has offered to back Qatar’s entry as observer to the Indian Ocean Rim organisation.

Tourism was another area where relations were close, the ambassador said. In 2007, when fewer Westerners visited the island, the country recorded a 31% increase in tourism arrivals from the Middle East.

“Qatar is a niche market and we need to explore. But, it is not included in the tourism strategic plan now. I have requested the minister to do so. This may be a small market but there is a huge potential.”

The embassy would soon have a tourism promotion window, he said.

In two-three years, the ambassador said, the island could return to its pre-80 glory. “Ours is a resilient country, maintaining over 6% annual growth despite the conflict, despite the huge defence expenses. The people are not affected. Various sectors, especially the education, the health and the agriculture, were unaffected during the conflict. We never closed down hotels.”

The Colombo stock market is picking up while other markets were declining, he pointed out. “This is the time to invest.”

Original source: Gulf Times

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