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New Office of International Trade with staff shortage grapples to complete FTAs

By: Staff Writer

May 14, Colombo (LNW): The new ‘Office of International Trade’ (OIT) established at the President’s office to explore economic potential of trade and investment via linking with regional and global value chains is grappling to fulfill its task at present due to shortage of experienced and expert staff, official sources revealed. 

This office was set up as a major element of the Government’s economic revival programme. aimed at integrating South Asia and then expand to the east; China, Thailand and Indonesia linking to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which consists of 30% of the world’s GDP, trade and population

How ever a high official of the newly established OIT has informed the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) that it has no sufficient staff members, COPF Chairman Dr. Harsha de Silva told Parliament yesterday.

The chief negotiator of the OIT A.G. Weerasinghe has informed COPF that it is not possible to carry out feasibility studies on pending Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with China and Thailand.

“A decision should me made whether the Department of Commerce should be continued or closed down. It will be possible to transfer officers of the Department of Commerce to the OIT if a decision is made to close down the Commerce Department,” he said.

On the directions of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Government has decided to reorganize the existing conventional institutional set-up and newly establish the International Trade Office (ITO) to interconnect all the relevant institutions and synergize their work to obtain maximum output from the external trade sector to the National Economy.

ITO is set to lead trade negotiations and strike deals with India, China, Thailand, Indonesia and Bangladesh with plans to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the President’s office said.

Sri Lanka has re-started trade negotiations with India, China and Thailand last year with a cabinet appointed National Trade Negotiations Committee headed by Chief Negotiatior

A twelfth round of talks with India, a seventh round of talks with China and the third round of talks are to be concluded this year. Sri Lanka also wants to conclude a preferential trade agreement with Bangladesh and Indonesia.

After deals with South Asia and East Asia is done, Sri Lanka wants to start talks to enter the RECEP

The ITO, has been established through an Act of Parliament and it is headed by an Ambassador of International Trade, vut it is lacking supported staff with an eminent group of advisors who has expertise in international trade and the core structure of the institution as well as designated officers from all the relevant institutions attached to it. 

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