Renewed protests have begun against a comprehensive bilateral trade agreement between India and Sri Lanka days before President Mahinda Rajapaksa is slated to fly to New Delhi.
The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) – which would take forward the current Free Trade Agreement between the two countries – would benefit India at the cost of domestic industries, protesters said.
A large number of entrepreneurs including doctors, lawyers and engineers gathered at busy junction in Colombo and urged Rajapaksa not to ink the deal during his visit beginning June 8.
The Island newspaper reported that they were carrying placards sayings "Not to Sign CEPA – Harmful for Sri Lanka" and "Stop Indian Trade Invasion of Sri Lanka".
The main opposition, United National Party, has also asked for amendments to CEPA.
The party said that CEPA would affect Sri Lankan service sector as the agreement would open avenues for Indian professionals to come to Sri Lanka.
UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake told reporters that the government should look at the Sri Lankan perspective and focus on ways and means to protect Sri Lankan exports and on the Sri Lankan service sector. He said CEPA should not allow the Indian doctors and other professionals to come into the Sri Lankan market.
The Island reported that Rajapaksa apparently assured the protesters, when a delegation met him later, that he would not take any step that would harm the country’s interests.
The CEPA was effectively pushed to the background after the 2008 SAARC summit in Colombo when it was expected to be signed but was deferred after political opposition mounted. That opposition, quite clearly, is yet to be convinced otherwise.