Professionals oppose SL-Singapore free trade pact
The recently signed Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (SLSFTA) is a smokescreen for introducing Economic and Technology Co-operation Agreement (ETCA), National Joint Committee (NJC), comprising Sri Lankan professionals, has warned, stressing the need for Sri Lanka to put in place a comprehensive domestic regulatory framework before entering into international agreements.
Senior lawyer Kanishka Witharana said: “This agreement is the first of its kind, covering goods and services, and it will have a devastating impact on the country because the government has opened up professions sans licence or qualification requirements to foreigners. On the other hand, Singapore has one of the most comprehensive legal systems in the world.”
According to the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), a treaty of the World Trade Organization (WTO), a country must formulate its licencing and qualification requirements and technical standards prior to entering into agreements with other member nations. After entering into an agreement a state cannot come up with regulations in violation of trade agreements already in place. However, apart from four professions, i.e. doctors, accountants, surveyors and lawyers in court, there is no regulation as regards other professions.
Architect Nalaka C. Jayaweera said: “For example, the WTO says a member shall provide for adequate procedures to verify the competence of professionals of any other member and it is unfair to change regulations halfway into an agreement. If we try to do that we may have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars as compensation. We are not against trade deals but we need robust domestic laws to safeguard the national interest.”
Dr. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan of the University of Colombo said: “The NJC also urged all members of Parliament to oppose the SLSFTA. “The SLSFTA, drafted and signed without any public consultations, is the brainchild of a number of well connected individuals, including those holding foreign citizenship, who have no concern for Sri Lanka.”
“If the Sri Lankan Parliament ratifies the SLSFTA it will become a binding agreement/law that no future government will be able to change and it which will become more powerful than a constitution. And this particular agreement has no termination clauses.”