Friday, 30 July 2004  
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Warm welcome for President to Bangkok Summit

from Shirajiv Sirimanne in Thailand

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga arrived in Bangkok yesterday to attend the first BIMST-EC summit which will be held at the Government House tomorrow.

She was accompanied by Minister of Agriculture, Livestock, Lands and Irrigation Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Chandrasena Wijesinghe.

They were welcomed by the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand Chavalit Yongchiyut. Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was also at the airport.

The President will meet Thai Prime Minister Thakshin Shinawatra today for bilateral talks. President Kumaratunga will also witness the signing of six agreements by the two Ministers.

The BIMST-EC Summit will be attended by Heads of State from Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan.

BIMST-EC has identified 21 priority projects for implementation. Sri Lanka has proposed three projects, establishment of the Federation of Processed Food Association, Development of Heat Treatment for semi-precious stones and low-cost micro irrigation projects, to incorporate in the BIMST-EC.

The idea of forming a BIMST-EC initiated at the Ministerial Retreat in Bangkok in 1998 will also be discussed.

In addition, encouraging the issue of long-term multiple entry visas to facilitate increased business travel within the region will also be pursued. The possibility of introducing a BIMST-EC Business Travel Card will also be pursued.

Year 2004 is 'Visit BIMST-EC Year' and many promotions will be done by all countries.

The idea of this regional cooperation was first mooted by Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand at a meeting in Bangkok in June 1997. The grouping will serve as a bridge between the three SAARC countries and the two Asian countries. Nepal and Bhutan incorporated to the BIMST-EC recently.

Manwhile, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar said the Thai Government will share its experience with Sri Lanka to support the Sri Lankan Government efforts to uplift rural economic development.

The Foreign Minister also paid tribute to the Thai Government for its initiatives to uplift the country's rural economy.

In response Thai Prime Minister Thakshin Shinawatra said that he would like to share his country's experience with other member countries in BIMST EC to reach prosperity.

The Sri Lankan Government has decided to develop rural economy in the country and it could gain major support from Thailand.

The proposed bilateral talks for free trade between Sri Lanka and Thailand expected to be set in motion soon, will continue talks initiated by the previous Government of Sri Lanka.

The conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement will depend on the successful outcome of the talks. The anticipated bilateral trade target over two to three years will be US$ one billion between the two countries following Prime Minister Shinawatra's visit to Sri Lanka last year.

Saranrom Institute of Foreign Affairs of Thailand will assist in the establishment of an Institute for Strategic studies in Sri Lanka under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to conduct research into matters of strategic interest to Sri Lanka.

It is also envisioned that there could be an affiliation between the Thai Institute of Foreign Affairs and the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies.

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