(LANKAPUVATH | COLOMBO) – In a momentous Joint Press Conference today (03), President Ranil Wickremesinghe expressed his utmost pleasure in welcoming Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and his distinguished delegation to Sri Lanka. The occasion marked a pivotal step towards strengthening bilateral ties and fostering economic cooperation between the two nations.
President Wickremesinghe extended gratitude to Prime Minister Thavisin for accepting the invitation to be the Guest of Honour at the upcoming 76th anniversary celebration of Sri Lanka’s independence, scheduled for tomorrow (04).
The primary focus of this visit revolves around accelerating economic collaboration between Sri Lanka and Thailand. President Wickremesinghe highlighted the untapped potential for expanding trade and investment ties between the two countries, emphasizing the significance of their strengthened economic partnership.
A major milestone of the visit was the signing of the Sri Lanka-Thailand Free Trade Agreement (SLTFTA), the second such agreement Sri Lanka has forged with an ASEAN partner. The President emphasized the expeditious conclusion of the agreement, underscoring its potential to boost trade and investment ties significantly.
The leaders also renewed the Air-Services Agreement to enhance connectivity and inked a Memorandum of Understanding between the Gem and Jewellery Research and Training Institute of Sri Lanka and the Gem and Jewellery Institute of Thailand, further promoting economic, trade and tourism exchanges.
President Wickremesinghe highlighted the productive discussions on elevating Sri Lanka-Thailand relations, focusing on tourism, trade and various areas of economic cooperation. Notable agreements were reached in the defence sector, emphasizing information and intelligence sharing to combat transnational organized crime.
Following is the full speech delivered by President Ranil Wickremesinghe at the joint press briefing;
I am extremely pleased to welcome Prime Minister Thavisin and accompanying high level delegation including the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs to Sri Lanka. I want to thank Prime Minister Thavisin for accepting my invitation to be the Guest of Honour at the celebration of the 76th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s independence, which will be held tomorrow.
The main focus of this visit is accelerating economic cooperation between Sri Lanka and Thailand. There is significant potential for the expansion of trade and investment ties between our two countries which have remain largely untapped.
The Prime Minister and I witnessed the signing of the Sri Lanka-Thailand Free Trade Agreement (SLTFTA) a short while ago. This is the second FTA Sri Lanka is concluding with an ASEAN partner, the first being with Singapore. The two sides worked expeditiously to conclude this agreement highlighting the strong interest of both Governments on this important endeavour. This is a milestone in our economic partnership and operationalizing the FTA will be a priority. The FTA is expected to boost trade and investment ties between the two countries.
Additionally, we have renewed the Air-Services Agreement to enhance connectivity between the two countries and a MoU has been concluded between the Gems and Jewellery Research and Training Institute of Sri Lanka and the Gems and Jewellery Institute of Thailand. Both of these agreements will enhance economic, trade and tourism exchanges.
Today, we have also had a very productive discussion on elevating Sri Lanka –Thailand relations. During the bilateral discussion between our two delegations which concluded a little while ago, we covered a wide range of areas of cooperation. There is considerable potential to develop tourism, trade and other areas of economic cooperation between Sri Lanka and Thailand. We see great potential for enhanced investments from Thailand coming into Sri Lanka and we discussed possible areas for collaboration. We have also had a detailed exchange on cooperation in the agriculture and fisheries sectors which both countries have a keen interest in pursuing.
In the area of Tourism we have spoken in particular on promoting the Buddhist tourism routes and marine tourism. In order to facilitate travel between the two countries, we have agreed to consider entering into an agreement for a visa free travel arrangement on reciprocal basis. Our officials will work towards finalizing this arrangement early.
I thank the Prime Minister and the Government of Thailand for the assistance extended by the Thailand International Cooperation Agency (TICA) over the years for capacity building, sharing of expertise, and training provided to Government officials in Sri Lanka by the Thai side in areas including fisheries, SMEs, tourism, climate change, public health, and agriculture.
We have also had a very useful discussion on cooperation in the area of defence and intend to augment our defence sector cooperation in the future. In particular sharing information and intelligence between defence establishment of both countries to curb transnational organized crime including human trafficking, drug smuggling, money laundering and financing of terrorism is important.
We also discussed that Sri Lanka and Thailand have cooperated well in regional fora such as BIMSTEC, IORA, ACD and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). I congratulated Thailand on the initiatives undertaken during their Chairmanship of BIMSTEC in particular the Bangkok Vision 2030 which aims to propel BIMSTEC towards a prosperous, resilient, and open region, fostering sustainable and balanced growth. As partners in the Indian Ocean region, we look forward to collaborating with Thailand along with other IORA partners within IORA which Sri Lanka is chairing at present.
The two countries have also worked well at various multilateral fora. I highlighted to the Prime Minister that there is much that needs to be done by likeminded countries of the Global South such as Thailand and Sri Lanka to create an effective impact in shaping the evolving new world order.
As you are aware, Sri Lanka has made significant progress in economic stabilization since the economic crisis of 2022. One of my principle strategies of economic growth and prosperity is to enhance bilateral trade, particularly with proven future potential of the East Asian and ASEAN region including Thailand. We are ready to engage with external partners and our aim is to ensure prosperity for our people.
With the advent of the Asian century, we believe there is expanded scope for cooperation between our Sri Lanka and Thailand, building on the traditional friendship that we already share.
One of the foremost tenets of my government’s foreign policy is deepening economic integration with the Southeast Asia region. We also wish to be a part of the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) which is the world’s largest free trade pact, encompassing 15 Asia-Pacific economies and covering about 30% of the world’s gross domestic product and population. As Sri Lanka begins to stabilize its economy and regain international confidence towards recovery and growth, we are looking at Thailand’s support as Sri Lanka undertakes this very important journey of economic transformation and integration with Asia.
Our business communities will be meeting following this briefing at the Sri Lanka- Thailand Business Forum. I am pleased to see that a high-level business delegation of 21 companies from Thailand are also in Sri Lanka representing inter alia food and food processing, healthcare, energy, hospitality, tourism, fisheries, agriculture and manufacturing sectors during this visit, demonstrating the keen interest on building synergies with the Sri Lankan business community. This will be a very useful opportunity for our companies to hear from the Prime Minister and me directly and understand the potential for trade and business. We will be creating many more such opportunities for our companies to interact more regularly, in the future.
I want to thank you Prime Minister Thavisin and accompanying high level delegation for your visit to Sri Lanka which has further cemented our existing historical and religious connections as in the economic sphere and I look forward to working closely on the initiatives we have taken during this visit.
Meanwhile, in a demonstration of deep respect and gratitude, Thai Prime Minister Hon. Srettha Thavisin expressed gratitude for the warm welcome from President Wickremesinghe and the Government of Sri Lanka. The leaders discussed a broad range of topics, emphasizing their shared historical and cultural ties, culminating in the signing of a pivotal Free Trade Agreement.
The Sri Lanka-Thailand Business Forum, promises significant business opportunities, encouraging private sectors to explore two-way trade and investment. Two essential MOUs were signed, focusing on enhanced air services and gem and jewellery cooperation.
Thailand’s ambitious land bridge project connecting the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand aims to fortify connectivity, with collaborative efforts with Sri Lanka on the horizon. The leaders agreed to promote investments in sectors such as fisheries, food processing, tourism, hospitality and green energy.
In a significant announcement, Thai Airways International will resume daily flights between Bangkok and Colombo from March 31st, fostering closer ties. Thailand proposed trilateral collaboration on cruise tourism, with a focus on cultural and Buddhist tourism.
Visa-free arrangements and a Memorandum of Understanding on visa exemption are under discussion, enhancing people-to-people connections post-FTA signing.
Thailand reiterated support for Sri Lankan human resource development, focusing on agriculture and fishery sectors. The joint initiative on elephant welfare and habitation is progressing, reflecting shared values.
The leaders expressed intent to maximize shared values bilaterally and in multilateral fora, with Thailand’s hosting of the sixth BIMSTEC Summit this year. As a candidate for ASEAN membership in the Human Rights Council, Thailand anticipates effective collaboration with Sri Lanka.
Prime Minister Hon. Srettha Thavisin extended warm felicitations on Sri Lanka’s 76th independence anniversary, expressing sincere appreciation for the hospitality and arrangements.