Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Federal Councillor and the Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland Mr. Didier Burkhalter on Thursday (03.03.2016) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on ‘Foreign Office Consultations between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka and the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of the Swiss Confederation’, in Bern the capital of Switzerland. The agreement would facilitate a more stronger and regular dialogue between Sri Lanka and Switzerland. The MoU was signed at the conclusion of an official visit to Switzerland, which was noted to be the first by a Sri Lankan Foreign Minister to Bern in 30 years. Ministers also discussed on the possibility of entering into a comprehensive partnership agreement on migration between the two countries, and agreed to pursue the proposal through technical committees from both sides.
Welcoming Minister Samaraweera in Bern, Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter, recalled his visit to Sri Lanka March 2015, shortly after the Presidential elections. He affirmed Switzerland’s continued cooperation and assistance to Sri Lanka both for the ongoing activities, as well as in new areas, including in providing expertise to the process of developing the proposed models of reconciliation by the Government of Sri Lanka.
During the bilateral meeting, a number of mutually important issues were discussed by the two Foreign Ministers including exploring new avenues for further expansion of bilateral relations, as the two countries celebrate 60 years of diplomatic relations this year. Minister Samaraweera briefed the Federal Councillor Burkhalter on the progress made over the last one year, by the new Government in its reform and reconciliation programme based on the proposed four-pillar model, and the drafting of a new constitution, all of which are aimed at mitigating the effects of the conflict and to enable return to stability and offer new prospects for the country with guarantees for non-reoccurrence. Federal Councillor Burkhalter congratulated Minister Samaraweera on the progress achieved so far and assured him that “Switzerland would continue and indeed step up its support for the proposed process”.
The two Ministers also agreed that in addition to the cooperation in political spheres, there is potential for strengthening economic cooperation between the two countries and in this context Minister Samaraweera requested the support of the Government of Switzerland to encourage Swiss investment into Sri Lanka, taking advantage of the investor friendly business climate in the country at present, in particularly in strengthening the areas of financing and banking sectors, IT, hospitality industry and pharmaceutical industry, where Switzerland has particular expertise. The need for reviewing the current agreement on investment promotion and protection established in the early 1980s between the two countries was also agreed upon. Switzerland also assured continued support for Sri Lanka through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), for activities including the ‘Colombo Process’ a Group of 11 contractual labour sending countries in Asia, presently chaired by Sri Lanka. Federal Councillor Burkhalter assured the support of Switzerland for Sri Lanka becoming a member of the Foundation Council of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), and to assist Sri Lanka with training on security policy under the GCSP framework. Assistance in asset recovery through the support of the International Centre for Asset Recovery (ICAR) – Basel was also discussed at the meeting. Regarding the follow – up to the Singapore diaspora dialogue, Minister Samaraweera hoped that the next dialogue could take place in Sri Lanka.
In addition to the bilateral engagement, the two Ministers also focused on cooperation at multilateral and regional organizations, including the SAARC and the ASEAN.
Responding to questions by the Swiss media at a joint press-stakeout held following the bilateral meeting, Minister Samaraweera invited the Sri Lankan diaspora in Switzerland to return to their motherland and to assist with rebuilding the country to its true potential. Federal Councillor Burkhalter acknowledged that Sri Lankan diaspora are making significant contributions to Swiss society and are engaged in multiple skilled fields. He also agreed to continue assistance to encourage those who are willing to return to Sri Lanka voluntarily. The Sri Lankan diaspora is the largest non-European community living in Switzerland and comprise 0.6% of the Swiss population.
Minister Samaraweera was assisted by Ambassador Ravinatha P. Aryasinha, the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva and Consul General to Switzerland, Ms. Mahishini Colonne, Actg. Director General/UN, US & Canada, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Mafusa Lafir, Second Secretary, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka in Geneva, Mr. Daniel Alphonsus, Media Secretary to the Hon. Minister and Mr. Sameera Hettiarachchi, Public Relations Officer to the Hon. Minister.
The Federal Counciller Burkhalter was assisted by Mr. Heinz Walker-Nederkoorn, Ambassador of Switzerland to Sri Lanka, Mr. Michael Cottier, Regional Coordinator of South Asia, Asia and Pacific Division and other senior officials from the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.
Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka
3 March 2016