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Sri Lanka in Asia

Statement by Rohitha Bogollagama , Minister of Foreign Affairs to Heads of ACD diplomatic missions based in Colombo on today , August 27.

By Rohotha Bogollagama

(August 27, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sri Lanka takes over the chairmanship of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue. As we look to expand connectivity and enhance development in the Asian Region, Sri Lanka assuming the chair of this grouping at this juncture, comes in wake of the defeat of terrorism and due recognition of the ability to engage in such a task. At the 6th Ministerial Meeting of the grouping in Seoul, it was decided that Sri Lanka assumes the chair and provide leadership to this important organization.

Sri Lanka considers the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) to be an indispensable forum as a diverse grouping of 31 countries of Asia. These countries, large and small, developed and developing, capable of promoting and nurturing economic development, in all spheres, and more importantly, reflect to the rest of the world, a sense of Asian stability and predictability. The member countries of the ACD have got together around the concept of a cohesive “Asianness and Asian inclusivity on an unequivocal basis”.

Most of the members of ACD are members of other proactive and highly vibrant regional and sub-regional economic groupings and blocs such as the SAARC, BIMSTEC, ASEAN, APEC, the Colombo Plan, GCC, OIC and IOR-ARC, which would further strengthen and bolster the cohesiveness of the ACD and the affinity between and among the member countries. It is important to highlight that the ACD, which is hardly seven years since its inception, has already evolved, progressed and advanced in to a proactive Grouping of Asian nations, reflecting the intrinsic and inherent strengths of the members of the ACD.

ACD plays a pivotal and instrumental role in the realm of interdependence and cooperation between and among the member States.

The 21st Century has been claimed by Asia and the main platform for economic activity is moving inevitably from the traditional and conventional centers of growth in the Western world to the Eastern part of the globe.

The ACD member States consisting of nearly 2/3rd of humanity are endowed with a significant amount of natural resources ranging from oil, gas, coal and minerals to steel, aluminum, copper and hydro power, thus cogently demonstrating the economic potential and prowess, which is yet to be fully realized in many developing countries.

The ACD, probably the only major Grouping of nations, which spreads across the entire spectrum of Asia, from North to South and East to West - could well leverage to take the advantage of the economic and political opportunities of this vast and vibrant region.

Sri Lanka aims to work in the achievement of the goals and objectives of the ACD in promoting interdependence among Asian countries in all areas of cooperation by identifying Asia’s common strengths and opportunities which will help reduce poverty and improve the quality of life for Asian people whilst developing a knowledge-based society within Asia and enhancing community and people empowerment;

Further more we would look to expand trade and financial markets within Asia and increase the bargaining power of Asian countries in lieu of competition and in turn, enhance Asia’s economic competitiveness in the global market;

In addition, Sri Lanka aims to engage with the other countries in the grouping to ultimately transform the Asian continent into an Asian Community capable of interacting with the rest of the world on a more equal footing and contributing more positively towards mutual peace and prosperity.

Sri Lanka became a member of the ACD in 2003. Sri Lanka, as a member of the ACD Coordinating Group which includes Iran, Kazakhstan and Thailand, hopes to take advantage of the diverse grouping within the ACD, particularly in the spheres of commercial and economic connectivity and cooperation.

Since its inception the ACD has developed two dimensions, namely Dialogue and Projects. On the dialogue dimension, ACD Foreign Ministers meet annually at the ACD Ministerial Meeting. Foreign Ministers also meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to update each other on the progress of ACD project cooperation and to have discussions on international issues of concern. On the Projects Dimension, many countries have proposed to be “prime movers” in 20 areas of cooperation, such as energy, agriculture, bio-technology, tourism, poverty alleviation and SMEs Cooperation. Sri Lanka is a Co-prime mover in the SMEs sector, the national focal point being the Ministry of Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion.

Sri Lanka as one of the Co- prime movers for SMEs sector in the Asia Cooperation Dialogue hosted the Asia SMEs Summit 2009 under the theme ‘SME Policy Development from 6th -8th August 2009 in Colombo.

At the 6th ACD Ministerial Meeting held in Seoul, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka was nominated to host the 8th ACD Ministerial Meeting in Colombo. Accordingly, preparatory arrangements are being made to host the 8th ACD Meeting in Colombo on 15th October 2009 under the theme “Spirit of Asia: Global Economic Recovery and Development Prospects.”

His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa will inaugurate the sessions.

We have chosen as our theme - ‘Spirit of Asia; Global Economic Recovery and Development Prospects’ as it is Asia that is today giving the lead for global economic recovery. The worst of the global economic crisis has now passed. Many Asian countries have performed better than expected and the recovery is faster than predicted.

The recovery from the recession is faster in Asian countries. The primary reason is that these countries have large domestic demand-generated growth with domestic investment and consumption playing a key role.

Moreover we find that most of the East Asian countries are recovering faster owing to the experience they gained from the 1997 / 1998 financial crisis.

Among the developing economies Asia is giving the lead for the recovery process. It has been predicted that by 2050 the four leading economies in the world will be China, USA, India and Japan – three of them being Asian counties.

Today we also see a growing recognition in Asia of the importance of regional economic cooperation for generating growth impulses from within these countries.

Asian trade today is characterized and governed by a number of Sub - Regional Trade Arrangements such as ASEAN, SAARC, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral and Technical Cooperation (BIMSTEC), and Bangkok Agreement among others.

The challenge before us would be to consolidate these regional and bilateral trade arrangements under the umbrella of an “Asian Economic Community”.

The Asian Region comprises some of the fastest growing economies in the world, which have accumulated over US$ 3 trillion in foreign reserves. Together, they form a huge market that is growing faster than in any other region and could form a vibrant regional grouping.

The formation of an Asian Economic Community will also help the region to play a more effective role in shaping a world trading and financial system that is more responsive to Asia’s needs. The ACD will be the vehicle through which this can be achieved.

We believe that the time has come for Asians to develop their true potential and at the same time to be bolder in their ambitions and aspirations.

In conclusion, much is expected of ACD and indeed, is expected by the many millions of people who inhabit the countries of Asia. In their quest for tangible improvements in the quality of their daily lives, people eagerly await the economic benefits that are supposed to emanate from groupings such as ACD which are committed to the concept of economic progress and concerted development. Nothing can be more liberating to the human spirit than the realization that there is finally some hope in ones life. The big challenge that Asian economies face is to maintain a growth rate of 5-7 % in the coming years.

Asia has potentially the largest pool of talent to share with the world. The challenge before us is to generate new opportunities for Asian societies and to begin to create the architecture for greater Asian Economic Cooperation.

We hope that with Sri Lanka assuming the chair of this organization, the true potential of the grouping and its member States would be realized.

This is yet another occasion in which Sri Lanka has been called upon to play an integral role in the global community in taking over the chairmanship of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue whilst also chairing the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Over the last two to three years, Sri Lanka has joined the ASEAN Regional Forum, the Shangri-La Dialogue as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Sri Lanka will also be assuming the chair of the Group of 15 and has also sought Observer Status in the Organization for the Islamic Conference. These are significant achievements for Sri Lanka in the global landscape.

-Sri Lanka Guardian

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