Sri Lanka scraps Japan-India port deal

Abide By Commitment' Says India As Sri Lanka Pulls Out Of Port Deal

Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has caved to nationalist demands against Indian involvement in the East Container Terminal (ECT), promising trade unions that it would be 100 per cent by Sri Lankan Port Authority. Sri Lanka would have held a 51% stake in the development and operation of the facilities, with India and Japan owning the rest.

But India has remained steadfast about the project during high-level discussions, including during a visit last month from External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Earlier over the weekend, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa assured protesting local worker's trade union that the terminal will not be sold or leased to any foreign entity.

In a possible bid to make amends - the Rajapaksa government has offered the West Container Terminal (WCT) of Colombo Port on a 35-year agreement to India and Japan instead, but officials have thus far been cold to the offer.

Two days after Sri Lanka chose to scrap a 2019 agreement with India and Japan for operating the East Coast Terminal (ECT), Japan says the decision was "unilateral and regrettable". However, official sources in the Sri Lankan government acknowledged that India is not keen on an alternate arrangement and views the decision as "unilateral".

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"The commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka has been conveyed several times in the recent past, including at the leadership level.All sides should continue to abide by the existing understandings and commitment", the Indian spokesman added.

More than 70% of business is from ships making their way to Indian coast from the Colombo port, which made the deal important for Sri Lanka as well.

Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd (APSEZ), a group company of the Adani Group, is India's largest private port operator. Adani effectively handles over a quarter of all cargo passing through the country's ports.

As per the 2018 agreement India and Japan were to have a 49% stake collectively in the Terminal Operations Company that was to be set up with the exclusive and explicit objective of providing the equipment and systems necessary for the development of the ECT and managing the ECT for long periods. Labor unions at the port had objected vehemently to the deal, with more than 20 launching a strike past year and threatening another in late January. Sri Lanka is always keen to maintain cordial diplomatic ties with India. Godahewa, who also heads ViyathMaga, a network of academics, professionals and entrepreneurs that played a key role in negotiations between the unions and the government, said: "We volunteered to talk to find an agreeable ground to ensure that any decision would respect Indian interests as well".

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