“I am very grateful to H.E. the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Hon. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa for their deep interest in elevating Afghanistan – Sri Lankan bilateral ties and further enhancing our two countries’ co-operation within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and other intergovernmental organizations where we have advanced our common interests in regional stability, environmental security, as well as connectivity for trade and stronger people-to-people ties across South Asia,” said M. Ashraf Haidari, Ambassador of Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, at a recent discussion held at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Colombo.
During the discussion, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Senior Assistant Secretary General, Ms. Lilakshini de Mel, briefed Ambassador Haidari on the role of the 19 business councils coming under the purview of the Chamber and indicated that the ‘Sri Lanka – Afghanistan Trade Desk’ will be initially established in February 2020 to further promote trade, investment and tourism between Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Accordingly, the Ceylon Chamber will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) shortly afterwards. The Ambassador assured his fullest co-operation to take forward the initiatives of the Trade Desk.
It was further mentioned that the Ceylon Chamber has already established Trade Desks with Africa, Middle East, Iran, Poland and Turkey. Next in line would be Afghanistan, Bangladesh and UAE. Through the Trade Desks, bilateral trade, tourism and investment will be promoted with the assistance of a counterpart Chamber of Commerce.
The formation of this business desk provides a single window solution for Sri Lankan companies and investors looking to invest in Afghanistan’s virgin markets, including construction, telecommunications, logistics and transportation, health and medicine, agriculture and agribusiness covering fruits and dried nuts, natural and mineral resources covering gems and precious stones, hand crafted rugs and carpets – among other things – whilst Afghanistan can benefit from Sri Lanka’s abundance of Tea, Rubber, Coconut, Machinery, Medical and Technical Expertise.
It was further stated by Ambassador Haidari that owing to a vast cornucopia of resources in both Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, potential economic gains from trade between the two nations is immense and both countries look forward to signing an MOU on trade and investment promotion and protection in due course.
It was also noted that Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have initialled an air services agreement, which they will sign sometime soon, as this agreement will help facilitate the establishment of a direct passenger and cargo flight between Kabul and Colombo.
The Acting Minister of Finance of Afghanistan and Chief Advisor to the President, Dr. Mohammad H. Qayoumi, visited Colombo on February 8-9, 2020. He along with Ambassador Haidari held bilateral discussions with President Rajapaksa, who warmly welcomed and strongly supported the proposal by the visiting Afghan Minister to establish air connectivity between Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. They agreed that direct connectivity would immediately boost bilateral trade and people-to-people ties.
Indeed, when air connectivity between the two countries is finally established, Afghans and Sri Lankans should be able to reconnect with shared heritage through tourism, trade and investment, education, and cultural exchange.