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State Minister for Regional Co-operation Tharaka Balasuriya delivering the keynote address at the virtual conference; ‘Promoting Sri Lanka’s Interests in the Maritime Domain: Strengthening Cooperation with the European Union’ reiterated that Sri Lanka’s maritime domain is a vital component that can unleash Sri Lanka’s growth potential and achieve the priority areas outlined in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s manifesto ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’.
Addressing the conference, State Minister Balasuriya further stated that in relation to economic and political ties, enhancing cooperation with the European Union is a priority of the government.
Foreign Secretary Admiral Professor Jayanath Colombage delivering the introductory remarks underscored the need for a new economic outlook that could help capitalize on ocean resources. Foreign Secretary Colombage also called for a rules-based maritime order that addresses the inequalities and asymmetries that exist between countries, peace and stability in the region and most importantly, maritime-related infrastructure development to achieve Sri Lanka’s ambition of becoming a maritime and logistics hub in the Indian Ocean region.
This Virtual Conference was hosted by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI) in collaboration with the Foreign Ministry of Sri Lanka and the Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka. The conference explored strategies that need to be adopted by Sri Lanka to ensure the sustainability of the complex maritime landscape, encompassing ocean-based economy, marine ecosystems, and ocean governance.
The conference brought together eminent speakers to discuss opportunities and challenges in the fields of Maritime Trade & Logistics Hubs, Marine Biodiversity & Livelihoods, and Maritime Safety & Security in Sri Lanka’s path to sustainable economic development, leveraging its strategic location.
Ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka Denis Chaibi delivering the opening remarks stated that countries that foster regional cooperation and integration have a greater chance of convincing the international community that they do not have to choose one power over another. Importance of rule-based ocean governance was cited as a prerequisite for harnessing maritime resources and ensuring maritime safety and security. He emphasized that it is not easy to achieve regional cooperation as it is based on mutual understanding and trust. He assured that the EU is ready to extend its expertise to support Sri Lanka in its sustainable development, including maritime trade and regional cooperation initiatives.
Commenting on Sri Lanka, Director General of Europe and Central Asia, EU & Commonwealth of the Foreign Ministry Dhammika Semasinghe stated that the European Union is an important and longstanding trade and development partner to Sri Lanka and is Sri Lanka’s second-largest trading partner. She further stated that Sri Lanka’s relationship with the EU during the last five to six years has been proactive, dynamic, and robust, marked by regular interactions and a greater understanding of the ground realities by both parties.
First Panel on Maritime Trade and Logistics Hub was moderated by Global Chairperson of Women in Logistics and Transport (WiLAT) Gayani De Alwis which included CEO of South Asia Gateway Terminals (Pvt) Ltd. Romesh David; Founder of SCM PLUS (Pvt) Ltd. Dr. Ruanthi De Silva, former Corporate Director of Supply Chain Management Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement; and CEO/Shippers’ Academy Colombo Rohan Maskorale.
Senior Lecturer of the Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries of the Wayamba University Dr. Sevvandi Jayakody moderated the panel on Marine Biodiversity and Livelihoods. The panel included Director of Protected Area Management of the Department of Wildlife Conservation Majula Amararathna; Policy Officer, Directorate General Environment, Biodiversity Unit of the European Commission Juan-Pablo Pertierra; Co-Founder and Director, Blue Resource Trust Daniel Fernando; and Chairperson of Environmental Foundation Ltd. and Director of Wetland and Wildlife, WWF Hong Kong Dr. Eric Wikramanayake.
The third panel on Maritime Safety and Security was moderated by Foreign Secretary Admiral Professor Jayanath Colombage. Panel included Director General/Operations and Chief Hydrographer of the Sri Lanka Navy and the Joint Chief Hydrographer to the Government of Sri Lanka Rear Admiral Y.N. Jayarathna; Head of the Global Maritime Crime Programme, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Alan Cole; Deputy Commander of the EU Naval Force Rear Admiral Corrado Campana; Team Leader, EU Programme, Critical Maritime Routes Indian Ocean (CRIMARIO) Colonel (Rtd.) Martin Cauchi Inglott; and Director General of Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change of the Foreign Ministry Ms. Hasanthi Urugodawatte Dissanayake.
Director General Dissanayake made Concluding remarks summing up the three panels and the vote of thanks was delivered by Director General of the State Ministry of Regional Co-operation Savitri Panabokke.
The virtual conference was attended by over 100 participants, including diplomats, scholars, government officials, members of the private sector, and civil society organizations.
The full transcript of the keynote address delivered by
State Minister for Regional Co-operation at this virtual conference is as follows;
Promoting Sri Lanka’s Interest in the Maritime Domain: Strengthening Regional Cooperation with the European Union
December 3, 2020
Your Excellency, Dennish Chaibi, Ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Secretary-Foreign Ministry, Admiral (Professor) Jayanath Colombage, Director-Generals and Additional Secretaries from the Foreign Ministry, Ms. Suganthi Kadirgamar – member of the Board of Management of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies.
Excellencies, distinguished guests, participants, Ladies, and gentlemen.
Ayubowan and Good Morning!
It is a privilege for me to deliver the keynote address at this virtual conference, ‘Promoting Sri Lanka’s Interest in the Maritime Domain: Strengthening Regional Cooperation with the European Union’.
The most common refrain we hear from all leaders across the globe today is that ‘we live in uncertain times.’ This climate of uncertainty is underpinned by threats that pose significant roadblocks to humanity’s ability to achieve economic and social prosperity both in the short run like the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as long term existential risks such as climate change. The question for leaders, policymakers, and other stakeholders is how do we turn these crises into opportunities to achieve greater equity and prosperity for our respective societies. Given the enormous task at hand, there is no doubt that not a single nation, however much power they may possess has the ability to unilaterally chart a course of action without the cooperation of other partners.
This is why increasing cooperation with one of Sri Lanka’s most reliable global partners – the European Union is an important priority for the government of Sri Lanka. This robustness of this relationship spans diverse avenues of interaction from; trade and economics, to cultural, and the political space. The EU was the largest destination for Sri Lanka’s exports in 2019 which accounted for 30% of all Sri Lanka exports. As Sri Lanka continues to look at ways to diversify its export basket and seek new markets, we remain steadfast on maintaining and improving our trading relationship with our European partners.
In my keynote speech, I wish to address three areas related to the overall theme of this conference. The importance of improving the resilience of maritime trade, increasing greater cooperation on climate change, and finally, I would like to mention a few points on maritime crime.
The President of Sri Lanka, H.E President Gotabaya Rajapaksa outlined in his visionary manifesto, ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ four key priority areas for his administration namely; poverty reduction, increasing the health of the population, education for all, and a clean environment’. To achieve these goals rests on the understanding that the maritime domain is a vital component to unleash Sri Lanka’s growth potential both in the economic realm and human capital.
According to a recent UNCTAD report, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic global maritime trade is expected to experience a 4.1 % decline in 2020. Such disruptions have not left Sri Lanka, a key maritime hub in the Indian Ocean unscathed. Lockdowns, disruptions to global supply chains, the health of seafarers and port workers have all exacerbated our current economic problems. While it would take some time for global maritime trade to return to a state of normalcy, this would be an opportune time for us to look at ways to improve our competitiveness as a trading hub through innovative solutions such as greater automation, digitisation, and improve key port performance indicators such as ‘turnaround times’.
Climate Change as a threat multiplier in the IOR
When it comes to the environment, the existential threats facing particularly the littoral states in the Indian Ocean from the effects of Climate Change continue to escalate. Formulating effective climate mitigation strategies will require not only the cooperation of all Indian Ocean countries but from additional extra-regional players as well. In a special report published on global warming in 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warned that a failure to keep global temperature rise within the 1.5 degrees would have, “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. The full-scale of the burden states will be saddled with due to climate-induced migration, decreased food production, infrastructure loss will have an unprecedented impact on economic growth, national as well as human security. With the view that climate change as a threat multiplier, many of the other maritime security challenges such; as illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, maritime piracy, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) will become more critical and will require greater cooperation on resources, knowledge sharing, and expertise. On this note, we are also grateful to the European Union for providing development assistance to Sri Lanka to uplift environmental standards through the Switchasia program which has a particular focus on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP). Such programs will be key to ensuring that some of Sri Lanka’s key economic sectors such as tourism continue to evolve with better environmental standards to mitigate their impact on our environment.
On the third issue of Maritime Safety and Security, one area I would wish to highlight would be the ongoing fight against maritime crime. During Sri Lanka’s decades-long struggle against the violent separatist struggle of the LTTE, Sri Lanka continuously had to navigate the perilous challenge of maintaining the control of its maritime boundaries against naval terror units of the LTTE, illegal arms shipments, and piracy. Due to the strategic and development of Sri Lanka’s naval forces we were able to meet these challenges despite incurring a significant cost financially as well as a significant loss of human lives. What these experiences also inform us is that cooperation among states to develop naval capacity, as well in areas such as information sharing need to be increased to ensure the collective security of the Indian Ocean region.
Closely connected with the rise of violent non-state actors is the growth in the drugs trade in the Indian Ocean. The growing number of drug seizures by various naval forces in the Indian Ocean indicate that criminal and terrorist networks continue to target the Indian Ocean as a trafficking network as a way for their products to reach Europe, and North America. The drugs trade can also no longer be isolated as an individual threat, as evidence suggests that many of the profits from such networks have proven to be funding terror networks from Afghanistan to Somalia. The effects the drug trade has on particularly economically vulnerable communities will place additional financial burdens on developing states, as they try to grapple with the most effective intervention strategies to combat the ensuing social ills of the drug on their societies. Sri Lanka with the help of UN agencies such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have stepped up our obligations and responsibilities in curtailing these activities.
Before I conclude I would like to wish the very best for today’s conference, and that the discussions would yield not only astute observations by the speakers and participants but also some action items that merit further study and implementation. Finally, I would like to end my remarks by saying that given the enormity of the challenges we face we are left with two options; One where we retreat to our individual silos and hope for the best or we view this present juncture as an opportunity to build bridges for us to work towards greater cooperation that will bring about peace and prosperity for all.
The full video can be viewed at: https://youtu.be/wOe3CZwlaY4