A free-trade agreement between China and Sri Lanka could be signed later this year, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported, citing a statement from Sri Lankan foreign minister G.L. Peiris.
"The feasibility study is on the verge of completion. It will be a landmark, historic achievement since the Rubber-Rice Pact in 1952," Peiris told Xinhua in an interview during his four-day visit to China.
Since the end of Sri Lanka's 30-year-long civil war in 2009, China and the South Asian country have forged close economic ties with the former being the island nation's largest loan provider, funding massive infrastructure projects worth about $4 billion.
With the conclusion of the free-trade agreement, Sri Lanka will have better access to the massive Chinese economy and its markets, with more opportunities for rapid expansion in trade, investment and tourism.
Sri Lanka recorded an economic growth of 7.2 percent in 2013, a year that saw other emerging markets struggle, and has attributed its success to “economic diversification” with a reduced dependence on the export of agricultural commodities and expansions in its service, banking, insurance and information technology sectors.
“In terms of development assistance, China is among the nations contributing most to Sri Lanka's economy,” Peiris reportedly said, adding that he expects Chinese tourists in Sri Lanka to double to 100,000 in the near future from 50,000 in 2013.
On Tuesday, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi said the country would stand behind Sri Lanka at a resolution to be tabled next month in the United Nations against Colombo for human rights violations during the country's civil war. The Sri Lankan government has rejected calls for an international inquiry on the subject.
Yi reportedly told Peiris during talks on Tuesday that China “opposes some countries’ interference in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka under the pretext of human rights issues." Yi added that China “backs the Sri Lankan government in safeguarding national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”