Trade and investment, political cooperation, defense initiatives, tourism and labour issues dominated the discussion in Seoul, Republic of Korea between Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea Chung Eui-yong.
Minister Prof. Peiris paid tribute to the multi-faceted relationship which had developed between the two countries during their 44-year relationship, and its present robust character.
Minister Peiris referred to the first meeting of the Joint Economic and Trade Commission held in Colombo in June, 2018. The two Ministers agreed on giving priority to arrange an early date for the next meeting to carry forward a number of important matters.
The balance of trade between the two countries is significantly in South Korea’s favour, with exports from Sri Lanka into ROK being of the approximate value of USD 71 million, while imports into Sri Lanka from ROK is at the threshold of about USD 192 million. The Ministers agreed on exploring practical ways of overcoming some of the significant trade barriers, including in particular customs levies on value-added products such as flavored teas.
Minister Chung Eui-yong responded positively to the request by Minister Peiris for enhanced dollar assistance from the EXIM Bank of ROK and greater development assistance from KOICA. The Ministers reviewed the very beneficial impact of South Korean Development programmes in Sri Lanka, especially in the fields of water management, waste disposal and secondary education. The ROK Foreign Minister said that he would engage the South Korean private sector to consider greater investment in Sri Lanka, especially in the fields of computer technology, electronics and pharmaceutical products.
Minister Peiris recalled that, during a previous period, there was a special investment zone in Sri Lanka for entrepreneurs from ROK. The Korea Business Association (KBA) had been very active in Sri Lanka at that time. The Ministers agreed that it would be timely to consider reviving this initiative, and expressed resolve to work towards it.
The Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka reiterated his country’s interest in receiving two naval craft from ROK.
With regard to tourism, it was noted that about 12, 500 tourists visited Sri Lanka from ROK before the onset of COVID 19. Given that Sri Lankan Airlines operates a direct flight between Colombo and Seoul, the ROK Minister agreed to work towards expanding the number of tourists visiting Sri Lanka from ROK, and also stimulating greater South Korean investment into the hospitality sector in Sri Lanka.
Minister Peiris expressed appreciation of the generous assistance received from ROK for combating the COVID-19 virus in Sri Lanka. Approximately 300,000 U.S. Dollars’ worth of equipment has already been received, with commitments of further assistance. The Sri Lankan Minister requested ROK cooperation in accelerating the vaccination of 22,000 Sri Lankans working in ROK.
The two Foreign Ministers held extensive discussions on cooperation in international fora, including the Human Rights Council in Geneva.