Monday, June 07, 2010

Is China behind CEPA protests in Sri Lanka?

(June 07, 2010, Colombo - Lanka PolitySri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is to visit India since tomorrow and the bilateral talks are expected to focus Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement (CEPA) that was supposed to be signed two years ago but stalled.

Two weeks back, several hundreds of protesters took to the streets against CEPA claiming it would hugely benefit the neighboring country by forcing the domestic industry into appalling risks. A high profile lobbying is underway against the trade pact which is yet to be made public.

Many highly educated, including doctors and engineers who were part of the recent protest along with businessmen expressed their fears that the island could be dominated by cheaper and skilled Indian services at the expense of the domestic industry.

However, Jose Roy writing to says "this argument is unfounded as India’s educated unemployed were largely jobless because their reluctance to work for less or in remote places. Moreover, Sri Lanka being a country less than half the currency value of India would not have to panic about the products or services from India going cheap rather can ensure superior quality which could help the country build its economy on a firmer footing."

The Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA) signed in 1998 and which is effective since March 1, 2000 has been able to boost trade between both nations significantly with near equal opportunity for the Sri Lankans. The ISFTA that is confined to the trading of only goods pushed country’s exports by manifold from $55.7mn in 2000 to $516.4mn in 2007. Interestingly, the part of the business community lobbying against the CEPA hail the ISFTA.

On the contrary, in 2002, the traded volume between China and Sri Lanka totalled about $350mn, of which China's exports accounted for $340mn providing room for Sri Lankan exports at about a meagre $10mn. Although Sino-Lankan trade witnessed tremendous growth over the years with bilateral trade crossing $2bn in 2009, imports from China remained predominately greater than the efflux. However, an anti-Chinese lobby is almost invisible possible because China is not involved in internal politics of Sri Lanka.

The conservatism of a part of Sri Lankan business community regarding CEPA is highly controversial. But the worst is Sri Lanka's leftist People's Liberation Front (JVP) and some other elements disgruntled due to the rise of Mahinda Rajapaksa through Sinhala nationalism in which they had kept all their eggs might try to rouse anti-Indian sentiments among the masses investing in CEPA protests.

These elements may use the opportunity for raising funds and mustering broad-based support for an anti-Indian campaign that may ultimately lead to a racist movement against any attempt to bring a solution for the ethnic problem through negotiations.

Frustration led them in previous occasions as well to similar disastrous racist tactics to grab power that caused havoc to entire nation. The JVP uprising between 1987-89 and the toppling of the democratically elected United National Party government through a premature election called manipulating draconian powers of the executive presidency they themselves despised in 2004 are examples. The damages incurred to the Sri Lankan polity in these vicious circles are immeasurable.

The business community members that protest the CEPA must be considerate of this kind of adverse effects of their protests that might ultimately lead to disastrous effects on the nation.

We, as leftists, do not believe in the conservatism in the name of safeguarding national states economies. It is the task of the capitalists to move in the path of market liberalization. Socialists must fight against the capitalist system for the rights of the down trodden masses. However, we believe that the forward march of the human socio-economic systems must not stop at nation state. Therefore, safeguarding national economies and state apparatuses should not be in the agendas of the leftists. Socialism, though not clearly defined, is an advanced social system, one beyond the fullest potentials of the capitalist system, that has nothing to share with the backward nation states.

CEPA is not leftists' subject. However, leftists must evaluate the situation vis-a-vis their aim of socialism. Socialism will be a reality only in a context labor has achieved the freedom of mobility that capitalism has already achieved.

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