There are significant opportunities for both Qatar and Sri Lanka to further enhance their bilateral relations besides focusing on trade, Sri Lankan ambassador Kithsiri Athulathmudali has stressed.
In an interview with Gulf Times, the envoy - who arrived in Doha about two months ago - said: “We have already signed 28 memorandums of understanding (MoUs). I am in the process of getting them materialised. It is nice to have these MoUs, and I am looking at which one of the memorandums can be activated immediately. I am actually pushing for all 28 to be activated.
“The MoUs have been signed in the fields of education, technology transfers, training, finance and services. I am looking at a couple of more things, such as petroleum and agriculture.”
The ambassador is confident that bilateral trade can be further enhanced. “At the moment, we do have a fair amount of trade but it is not something that I can say is significant. We are roughly exporting products worth roughly of $35mn to Qatar. Our imports from Qatar are worth about $50-52mn annually.
“From Sri Lanka, the exports are mostly perishable food items. We also have garments coming to Qatar, and we have tea and spices as well. As far as
imports are concerned, these are mainly made up of petroleum products, fertilisers, iron and iron-based products.”
The Sri Lankan ambassador sees opportunities for bilateral co-operation in sectors other than trade as well. “I think there are significant opportunities because both the countries have a fairly long history. In Sri Lanka, we have a long cultural heritage and I want to expose Qataris to our culture. It will do two things. First, they will learn about our history and who we are. Then, they will have an even better appreciation of the Sri Lankan community working here.
“We also have a very developed music industry. The more I listen to the songs of both countries, the more I see a kind of similarity between the two
kinds of music – Arabian Peninsula music and Sri Lankan classical music. Of course, we have eight World Heritage sites. It can help us in enhancing
tourism with Qatar. We are only five hours away," the envoy said, noting that Qatar Airways operates a number of flights to Colombo.
The ambassador expressed satisfaction at the way the Sri Lankan expatriate community is welcomed in Qatar. “For the past few weeks that I have been here, every time I met a Qatari, they talked about how well the Sri Lankans are working here. This shows me there is an accepted norm in the country that Sri Lankans work hard.
“I will, however, ask my compatriots that we are living in a host country. We must respect the laws of this country. We must respect the cultural
practices and religious beliefs of the country. We should assimilate with the local culture as much as we can seamlessly.”
He stressed that Qatar is working very hard to have a recognised place internationally as a multi-cultural and multi-religious country. "Obviously,
they are going to showcase this to the world during the 2022 FIFA World Cup," he said. “There also lies an opportunity for both sides. Sri Lanka has expertise in a number of areas such security. We have gone through different conflicts. We need to be partners with Qatar.”
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