Feb 08, 2016 (LBO) – The stage is now set for Sri Lanka to be the driving force in the South Asian region, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs said. “We have the god given advantage of being in the middle of this (the region) and we need to utilize this,” Harsha de Silva, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs told Lanka Business Online. “The 21st century economy will be driven by consumerism in the Central and South-East Asian region while Africa also has rapidly growing countries with 7 out of 10 fastest growing countries being in the region.” He says that one must think of the Pacific and the Indian Ocean as one. “This is the region that will drive the 21st century.” Speaking on concerns over Sri Lanka’s intended bilateral agreement with India named “Economic Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA)" de Silva said that because we are not opening up our privileges will be limited. “Unless we open the opportunities are limited,” he said. “In this agreement the 4th mode will not be open – doctors, lawyers, accountants will not be able to come and set their business here. The confusion is with the dockyard and some IT professionals,” he said. “In this case it was the related professional organizations that requested it some 4-5 years ago.” Some say such an agreement to bring foreign professional services to the country can be detrimental to the local professional resource base. Sri Lanka’s Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) in a recent statement suggested that organisations requiring to hire foreign professional expertise should be allowed on request, on acceptable reasons for which no bilateral country agreement is required. For a small country like Sri Lanka, de Silva says it is always advantageous to engage in rules-based trading with a larger trading partner like India, and ETCA will provide that framework for deeper economic engagement. “The integration with India is not a question but how quickly and forcefully and how broadly do we integrate,” “When you look at the Southern Indian state they are growing rapidly but their efficiencies are inadequate.” Data shows that India is Sri Lanka’s largest as well as the most balanced trading partner with overall bilateral trade between the two countries exceeding 4.5 billion US dollars in 2014. India is the largest source of imports to Sri Lanka and the third largest destination for Sri Lankan exports.