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Address by His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa on his State visit to Maldives on 11th February 2007.

 
Excellency Mr. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, President of the Republic of Maldives, and Madam Gayoom,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies & Gentlemen,
 
I am deeply touched by the attention bestowed upon my delegation by Your Excellency and the friendly people of Maldives. I must express my deep appreciation of the warmth of your welcome on the occasion of my first state visit as the President of Sri Lanka, to your beautiful country.
 
There are many similarities that unite our two nations, apart from being located in the great Indian Ocean. We both are proud inheritors of rich cultural traditions which date back to more than two millennia. We also have many similarities in our languages.
 
I would like to emphasize that our ties are becoming stronger, not only through membership of SAARC, Non-aligned Movement and diplomatic ties, but also through our common desire to develop our most valued resource, the people. We are also committed to progress on trade and commerce - thus working towards bringing economic development and lasting prosperity to our nations.
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
Globalisation provides us with both opportunities and challenges in our pursuit of development. Our approach to economic development must be modern, focused and in tune with the global trends. Therefore, while further developing existing relations, we need to be creative in forging new avenues of cooperation.
 
Sri Lanka exports fresh fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products as well as processed food items and tea, textiles and clothing and ceramic and plastics products. In 2005, our exports stood at US dollars 24.76 million and the imports at US dollars 21.09 million. As per the current trade agreement between our two countries, which gives MFN treatment for trading goods, we should find ways and means to increase the volume of trade by expanding our product base to include non¬traditional items.
 
Sri Lanka has always been proud of its skilled work force. We have the potential, in our skilled work force, to fulfill the much-needed skilled manpower Maldives demands, especially in the hospitality trade.
 
The policy of my Government is to integrate the positive aspects of free market economy with our own aspirations. We are committed to rural development and a revival of the glory in our villages. We need to work at this harder. When we look in the direction of other Asia countries that were lagging behind us at the time of independence¬ we see that they have overtaken us in reaching a remarkable level of development.
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
Our two countries and the Region have a bright future. Despite all odds, our two countries have achieved remarkable levels in human development factors. We were able to achieve this because in the past, we made these goals our priority, in our plans for our countries. We, however, cannot be complacent with our past achievements.
 
Your Excellency, Ladies and gentlemen,
 
If we want our future to be bright, we must have a clear and definite plan for our development needs, the knowledge of what we want to achieve and unwavering enthusiasm and desire to achieve our goals. It is my unwavering vision, to once again be the epicenter of Asian Silk Route and I strongly believe in its realization.
 
For this purpose, I have always emphasized the importance of further strengthening of our bilateral ties through some of the existing, bilateral mechanisms such as the Joint Commission, and the Joint Task Force in Tourism. Some of them need to be revived.
 
The recently established, more comprehensive Joint Commission between our two countries is a welcome step towards further enhancement of bilateral ties in the fields of economic, trade education, immigration and emigration, tourism, fisheries, culture, history and arts and health.
 
I sincerely wish that this Joint Commission would continue with vigour to achieve its intended goals. We are looking forward to hosting the next biennial session of the Joint Commission in Colombo in 2008.
 
Speaking of tourism, which is of utmost importance to both our countries, I would suggest that we launch a regional concerted effort to harness our collective resources to improve tourism. Our region has the potential to attract tourists, not only from other parts of the world, but also from our own region. Sri Lanka is keen to develop intra regional tourism. The historical relations among us, and the diversity of the region and the people will, no doubt, act as a catalyst in this respect.
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
In the recent past, intensive interactions between our business communities resulted in significant investments in each other's economy, particularly in the area of hospitality trade, gem and jewellery, garments and the financial services. Further, the business communities of both our countries are looking forward to venturing into new areas of cooperation for further strengthening of the existing economic relations. Sri Lanka is also keen to implement an Investment Protection Agreement (IPA) between our two countries.
 
Technology and communication go hand in hand with competitiveness of commerce and trade. We need to commit ourselves to further develop connectivity in the region in order to stay competitive.
 
I welcome the inauguration of Dhiraagu-SLT optical fibre sub-marine cable system, which is 850km in length, between Sri Lanka and the Maldives. This aims to enhance economic. growth and improve trade relations via superior telecommunications in South Asia. Apart from that with India, this project is only the second such project undertaken by Sri Lanka.
 
Your Excellency,
 
Sri Lanka is proud to have been associated with the development of human resources in the Maldives. My Government strongly believes that successful economic development strategy should go hand in hand with improving the skills of the area's workforce and giving priority to social development of our people. In harnessing this vision, Maldives students have been given opportunities to study at Sri Lankan schools and universities.
 
Sri Lanka recently undertook to build a Central Library in Male' which also stands in testimony of our abiding friendship.
 
Your Excellency, Ladies and gentlemen,
 
Today, no security or prosperity at home could be realized unless we deal with challenges of conflict at the correct time. We welcome the reforms proposed by your Excellency in the direction of participatory democracy of your country and I sincerely wish that all obstacles faced by you will be overcome in your effort to implement the changes.
 
Sri Lanka and the Maldives are two of the founding members of SAARC. Our two countries have expanded their relationship both bilaterally and within SAARC. We wish to reiterate our firm commitment towards SAARC process and to continue to work together with all the Member States of SAARC to achieve the noble objectives of the Association.
 
On an occasion, as special as tonight's, I want to underline that our bilateral relations are in constant evolution. From now on, we need to take it to greater heights to ensure development of our economies and to generate prosperity. Let us continue with vigour and earnest effort at this special occasion to work together to achieve common goals. Let our actions reflect what we want to achieve in the future.
 
Your Excellency,
 
I would like to conclude by expressing my deep appreciation of all the gestures of friendship and hospitality extended throughout my visit to the Maldives. While doing so, may I take the opportunity to most cordially invite your Excellency to visit Sri Lanka, so that we can reciprocate your gracious hospitality and goodwill. Your visit will give further impetus to our relationship.
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
Let me take this opportunity to propose a toast to the health and the well-being of our gracious host and the hostess, His Excellency Mr. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Madam Gayoom, and to the friendship between our two nations!
 
Let this be a renewed commitment in our bilateral relations!
 

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