Foreign Relations | Speeches

Vision for Sustainable Economic Growth

East Asia Economic Summit

Singapore, Singapore

October 12-14, 2003

I take this opportunity to first express my gratitude to the President and Directors of the World Economic Forum for inviting me to its East Asia Economic Summit and for giving me this valuable occasion to express our Vision and our Plans for Peace and Sustainable Economic Development, for Sri Lanka in particular and South Asia in general. The theme of this Summit – “Asia’s future recapturing dynamism” is most appropriate at this particular period of Asia’s history.

The important and interesting programme of work arranged for this Summit would benefit its participants and the developing nations of our region. May I also congratulate the World Economic Forum for the excellent arrangements made for this Summit, on behalf of my delegation and myself.

This Summit is an opportune moment for us to reflect upon our successes and our failures in achieving the goals we set ourselves, in the sphere of sustained economic growth. This would require a serious study of the relevance and suitability of the Vision formulated by each of our Nations, in relation to the specific conditions pertaining in each Nation – our histories, cultures, traditions and value systems and the available material resources on one hand, and situating this Vision in relation to the rest of the world, on the other.

Often we seem to confuse the one with the other, to the detriment of national interest and leading to inefficacy in achieving the goals we set ourselves.

South Asia, is home to 1500 million people, comprising 25% of the world’s population. It is also one of the world’s most poorest regions. Yet, we boast of a large number of highly trained and skilled persons and some of the highest levels of education in the developing world. We also offer the world’s single largest market and excellent weather and natural conditions. All these factors collectively should have given us a strong basis to achieves sustained economic growth, several decades ago.

I do not need to tell you that, we have failed to draw on our potential to the fullest, in order to realize our Vision for economic growth.

2. Challenges We Face

If I may speak of a few of the major reasons for slow growth in South Asia:
(i) South Asia’s ancient civilization which has lent it it’s richness, has also proved to be a major disadvantage in its forward march into modernity. The creation of modern Nation States out of conglomerations of various ethnic, linguistic and social communities has given rise to inherent conflicts within our Nations and between them. In some instances, the tensions have been exacerbated to the point of terrorism, operated by highly organized and today, inter-linked terrorist movements. Needless to say, that the resolution of these problems is crucial to continued economic growth.

South Asia today is driven perhaps by more conflict than in any other region in the world. Every one of the seven States of this region, excepting the Maldives, faces challenges from armed militant groups. The world’s two most dangerous and ruthlessly efficient terrorist organizations were born, nurtured and operate in South Asia, namely, the Al Queida and LTTE. The Governments of South Asia bear the responsibility of finding solutions to these conflicts. We believe, that while the strictest action must be taken expeditiously against all movements and individuals participating in or condoning terrorism, the causes that have generated such movements must be addressed. Peace is more than the simple absence of war. It entails the active engagement in the battle to identify and rectify the root causes of conflict. Otherwise stated, the perceived injustice that has engendered violent responses from those who feel victims of that injustice.

The challenge of the 21st Century for South Asia is to honestly undertake that enterprise of building pluralist, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Nation States, by managing the existing diversities within our nations and directing the richness of this diversity towards positive change.

(ii) The other challenge we face is the lack of trained personnel to manage our governments and their policies. Low salaries, lack of facilities and the Brain Drain, together with archaic administrative structures in the public sector are the major causes for this.

3. Towards Sustainable Growth

South Asia possesses many building blocks required for sustained growth. The level of human resources development in many of our Nations, together with long years of experience in agricultural production employing developed technological practices and in manufacturing of traditional industrial goods, afford the advantage of easy trainability. The existence of exchanges between our peoples, at the personal as well as trading levels for many centuries, facilitates modern trading and economic cooperation within the region. The South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) provides an excellent vehicle for these activities.

The delay in finalizing the SAARC Free Trade Agreement is being bridged by a number of free trade agreements between two or more SAARC countries. Sri Lanka has a wide ranging Free Trade Agreement with India since 1998. This has opened up the vast Indian market for Sri Lankan goods, as well as for foreign investors manufacturing in Sri Lanka. It has also generated substantial Indian investments in Sri Lanka in important sectors such as petroleum, information technology, telecommunications, manufacturing and tourism.

The Vision for economic development presented by me in 1994, has as one of its major strategies, the building of a close cooperation and strong economic links between India and Sri Lanka and the South Asian States, as well as with East Asia.

Our Vision also consists of developing Sri Lanka into a major Asian Economic Services Hub. For this purpose we have given priority to the accelerated development of Power and Energy, Telecommunications, Highways, Port and Airport services sectors, whilst launching a massive campaign of modernizing our entire education system. We are not satisfied to boast of some of the best indices, for literacy, life expectancy and infant mortality. We want all our peoples to access equitably, modern knowledge in science, technology including IT, management and so on.

4. South Asia in the Global Economy

Here it is important to stress that we need a clear vision and a plan of action based on our own specific, national and civilizational ethos, our cultural traditions and value systems, whilst bringing these in alignment with the globalized economy. I say our own specific national ethos, because a nation that has lost this, would certainly float hither and thither without the anchor of its own national character. History abounds with such examples. When we attempt to align our vision and strategies with the structures of the globalized economy, we come up against many obstacles. Many of our effective attempts are stalled by blank walls.

Globalization should not mean the continuous hegemony of the rich nations imposed upon the poorer nations. Globalization should be managed in a manner where the developing nations would have the space and the freedom to become partners of the globalized economy, while their specific needs and their right to make their own economic policy choices is recognized. We do not wish to be dictated to. We wish to be active participants in the processes of formulating policy meant to be implemented by us.

- Therefore, the World Trade Organisation and World Trade Agenda will have to be re-negotiated.

- The principles that underly decisions on trade must definitely be the same for the developed and developing nations. Policies regarding subsidies and competitive markets must be the same for all States.

- We do not comprehend how rich nations demand of us to abandon to the whims of the global markets, vulnerable sectors of our economy such as the farmers and small industrialists, when they practice extensive protectionist policies for these sectors in their countries.

- We do not believe in the magic formulae that brandish brilliant statistics achieved by a privileged few, while the majority of our peoples languish in the ignominy of poverty.

- Our Vision of development, englobes all sectors of our people, who will be assisted by the government to access equal opportunities to become full players in the development process of our economy.

- Debt forgiveness will have to be adopted as international financial policy, if huge sections of the world population are to exist at all.

- Conditionality in aid, to developing countries has proved to be negative. I suggest that this should be removed and replaced with selective assistance to countries with a proven track record of success. Such policies have demonstrated significant success in promoting economic growth and poverty reduction.

If we believe in sustainable growth, then we have to promote the practice of economic justice, where recognition of equality with democratic practice would be the corner stones of adopted strategies. In other words, the developed and powerful nations will have to realize that there are millions of humans waiting on the sidelines to share the fruits of development, humans who have hugely contributed to the wealth and progress of the developed nations in raw materials, natural resources and manpower. It is time for the rich and developed Nations to give of their technology, knowledge and financial assistance, not only with the objective of securing contracts for their nationals, but also to help alleviate poverty generated in their former colonies and the negative fall-out from the spread of globalized markets.

It may still not be too late, to undertake the process of building a pluralistic world, based on social and economic equality and power-sharing. If we do not address ourselves to this most pressing need of our times, peoples whose rational aspirations have been continuously frustrated through poverty and lack of economic and political power, would continue to engender discontent and despair, leading to violence and the twentieth century’s most horrendous invention – terrorism, which offers a direct threat to all that humanity has built up through the centuries to be respected and cherished, as just and decent.

In all humility, I would like to propose, that we together, undertake the enterprise of building a pluralist world, based on social and economic equality and power sharing. It may not, yet, be too late.

Thank you.