COLOMBO : The Korean embassy in Colombo hosted an in-house seminar on ‘Cooperation of ASEAN and ASEAN Dialogue Partners for Sri Lanka’ at the Hilton Hotel in Colombo on Friday, December 9
The seminar chaired by Korean ambassador, Santhush Woonjin JEONG was held for staff members of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, Korean ODA agencies such as KOICA, KOTRA and K-EXIM Bank, and the representatives of the Korean Communities such as KRA and KBA.
Since April 2022, Sri Lanka has faced a severe shortage of food items, fuel and medicine with the announcement of default. Although Sri Lanka initiated negotiations with the IMF for a new bailout program, the Island Nation had to go through numerous hardships through the first half of 2022. At this critical juncture, ASEAN and its Dialogue Partners (Korea, Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, and EU) have provided significant support to help Sri Lanka. Therefore, it is necessary and timely to discuss ways of developing international cooperation between ASEAN, ASEAN Dialogue Partners and Sri Lanka.
The seminar featured expert speakers’ presentations followed by a Q&A session from the audience.
Presentation 1 : ASEAN and its Dialogue Partners’ Cooperation with Sri Lanka by Speaker: Dr. George Cooke, Professor of University of Colombo, Presentation 2 : ASEAN Dialogue Partners’ (including China, Japan and India) Engagement in Sri Lanka’s Debt Restructuring by Speaker: Sumith Nakandala, Senior Director of Bandaranaike Center for International Studies, Presentation 3 : ASEAN Dialogue Partners’ Cooperation to Help Sri Lanka’s recovery by Speaker: Mohammed Rasooldeen, Editor of Colombo Times and Presentation 4 : Ways to Transform Economic Challenges into Opportunities for Sustainable Growth by Speaker: Lynn Ockersz, Business & Finance Editor of the Island. Jeonghun Byeon, Researc Officer of the Korean Embassy moderated the session . On behalf of Colombo Times,it legal consultant Ajra Azhar was also present at the event,
In his opening remarks Ambassador JEONG said such interaction will help common understanding to strengthen the ASEAN cooperation to help Sri Lanka at a trying time of this nature.
In his speech , Lynn Ockersz pointed out that “Food for all its citizens being Sri Lanka’s number one priority today, it would be advisable for the country to focus strongly on its agricultural sector. The country needs to seek out new export opportunities for its manufactures and industrial products plus its services but the issue as to whether it could feed itself on a self-sustaining basis would depend on its ability to revive its agricultural sector. Finding suitable and stable international markets for its non-agricultural products is bound to prove difficult for Sri Lanka in these times of a global economic downturn, but it could meet a considerable number of its food requirements by re-energizing its agricultural sector. On an emergency basis, the country’s farming community needs to be provided its basic agricultural inputs, including of course fertilizer.
The state is obliged to work closely with the local agricultural community to ensure that its produce, such as rice, fruits and vegetables, is suitably marketed and sold on terms that are favourable to farmers. Not only must farmers receive adequate financial returns for their produce but they must be also integrated into farmers’ cooperatives to ensure that they do not become victims of middle men and other exploitive interests.
Likewise, home gardening must be vibrantly popularized in the country. We could no longer depend on food imports because of their rising costs. More and more home gardens would lead to a degree of self-sufficiency in food among local families and render the country less dependent on food imports. Home gardening being a largely sustainable solution to our acute food shortage this is one area where a severe economic problem could be transformed into an opportunity for development. It is up to the state to remove any stigmas attached to agricultural occupations, particularly among Sri Lanka’s youth.”
Mohamed Rasooldeen said that the health system in Sri Lanka has to streamlined for better results and government should try to stop the qualified doctors leaving the country and medicines should be available at affordable prices.
“ Beyond its health impact, the pandemic had severe setbacks on human capital accumulation. To overcome these challenges, digital skills and higher education, as well as re-skilling and upskilling for employment, should be promoted. To ensure the well-being of workers and improve the future of work, labor policies for the new normal must be further strengthened including through social dialogue. Mainstreaming gender equality should also be prioritized throughout response and the recovery process given the gendered impact of the pandemic. Lastly, human rights should be safeguarded in the process of post-pandemic recovery towards a resilient region. Given the importance of markets in ASEAN, the post-pandemic recovery definitely requires more, not less, trade and investment,” Rasooldeen added.