It has been an honour and a privilege to welcome Sweden’s Foreign Minister, the Hon. Margot Wallström, to Sri Lanka this morning. This visit follows-on from the meeting we had in Geneva just over a year ago and President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickresinghe’s meetings with Prime Minister Stefan Lofven at the Boao Forum and World Economic Forum respectively.
Foreign Minister Wallström is no stranger to Sri Lanka, having lived and worked here in the late 1990s along with her family. I am delighted that we can welcome Minister Wallström to Sri Lanka again at such an exciting time of transition when Sri Lanka is on a new path towards democracy, reconciliation and development.
Her presence here is a source of encouragement as we proceed on this journey to make our country a truly peaceful, reconciled and prosperous nation which abides by the best democratic traditions - promoting and protecting the human rights of all our citizens and celebrating the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious, and multi-lingual nature of our society.
We also recognize Minister Wallström’s consistent leadership in the world’s efforts for improving the rights of women. Sri Lanka too is moving forward on this front. We have introduced a 25 percent quota for women at local government elections and the new constitution will further ensure that gender parity and the rights of women are upheld. We look forward to working with Sweden on this issue, and other important universal concerns such as climate change, at the United Nations and other multilateral fora.
Today, Sri Lanka has ended its period of self-imposed isolation and is taken note of by the world community, not merely in terms of her geographic position at the centre of the Indian Ocean but in terms of the changes that have been ushered in by the people of our country.
But we have a long way to go and the people of Sri Lanka require the assistance of the international community to ensure that our gains are built upon; the dreams of our people are realized, and that we define and create our future today by our hopes and aspirations without being held back anymore by the fears and prejudices of the past.
In our meeting we discussed working together to ensure that the people of our country benefit from these changes and from the peace and democratic dividend. We also discussed ways of making our partnership stronger, including enhancing development assistance, bilateral trade, tourism and investment. Specifically, I extended Sri Lanka’s appreciation for Sweden’s continued development assistance over the last fifty years, especially the Kotmale hydro power project, and discussed the possibility of the Swedish International Development Agency resuming a programme in Sri Lanka.
We note with appreciation the high-profile trade and investment delegation representing some of Sweden’s largest companies accompanying Minister Wallström. Sri Lanka is already home to 21 Swedish investment projects. As we improve market access to the Sub-continent by deepening existing free trade agreements with India and Pakistan, in addition to other emerging markets like China, with whom we are negotiating to sign a free trade agreement, we are confident that the delegation will find Sri Lanka an attractive Gateway to the Sub-continent and the Indian Ocean rim.
In addition to emerging market access, we are consolidating our position in developed markets. The Minister for International Trade is currently in Washington for the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement Council meeting which will include discussions on securing further concessionary access to US markets. We are also buoyed by the EU Commission lifting the red card on Sri Lanka’s fish exports, and we will soon be in a position to regain GSP+ concessionary access to the EU market.
By June a number of important bills will be introduced in Parliament to create an even more efficient, dynamic and secure business environment conducive for investment. Sri Lanka then will be truly open for business.
During her visit Minister Wallström will meet President Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the Speaker of Parliament. She will also be visiting Jaffna. I wish her and her delegation a very pleasant stay in Sri Lanka.