Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe is likely to discuss areas critical for his country’s economic recovery, including grid connectivity, renewable energy projects, an upgraded free trade agreement and port development, in his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his two-day official visit to New Delhi starting Thursday, sources have said.
This is Wickremesinghe’s first visit to India after assuming charge as President in July 2022 when the Sri Lankan economy was on the verge of collapse hit by an unprecedented financial crisis and social and political unrest.
“This is a good time for the Sri Lankan President to visit as the country’s economy is showing some signs of stabilisation and the government is charting an economic recovery path following IMF approval of $3 billion funding to support economic policies and reforms. India’s assistance package worth about $4 billion was crucial in helping the Sri Lankan economy stay afloat and the leadership of both countries can now decide on important projects going forward,” a source tracking the development told businessline.
Wickremesinghe, who arrived in New Delhi on Thursday, is scheduled to hold bilateral talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, when various MoUs are also expected to be signed, according to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Following this, he will meet President Droupadi Murmu at Rashtrapati Bhavan before his departure.
MEA Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the two countries could hold discussions on common security issues, common areas of development cooperation, and new projects in investments. “We have already been helping them with their economic problems....and I think this will be a good base to take forward our conversation.... We look forward to the visit to impart new momentum to the relationship,” Bagchi said at a media briefing on Thursday.
Sri Lanka is working on achieving regional grid connectivity with India with the support of the World Bank and hopes to implement it by 2030. “A pact with the island nation will also help India balance its influence, vis-a-vis China, and talks on grid connectivity would be of primary importance during the Presidential visit,” the source said.
India is also interested in reciprocating Sri Lanka’s interest in development of ports in the country, as China continues its attempts to increase its investments in the strategic sector.
Renewable energy projects is likely to be another thrust areas during the visit with Sri Lanka recently approving the Adani Group’s wind power projects.
“Wickremsinghe is also interested in upgrading the existing India-Sri Lanka FTA by resuming talks on the stalled Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement and is likely to take it up during the visit,” the source said.
“Sri Lanka is an important partner in India’s Neighbourhood First Policy and Vision SAGAR. The visit will reinforce the longstanding friendship between the two countries and explore avenues for enhanced connectivity and mutually beneficial cooperation across sectors,” per a MEA statement issued earlier this week.
The Covid-19 pandemic and a dip in tourism triggered collapse of the Sri Lankan economy in 2022 with the country defaulting on its debt for the first time in the history. The IMF said in May this year that the Sri Lankan economy could start growing in 2024 after contracting 3 per cent in 2023 but the growth hinged on implementation of the economic reform programme that the country has resolved to undertake.