Last couple of days, the buzzword of Sri Lankan IT industry is “CEPA”. So what’s the deal with it? Why Sri Lankan government is hell bent on bringing this agreement with India? Is it really going to help Sri Lanka? There is so much of unexplored territory in this agreement. Let’s try to understand this CEPA or whatever the name government planning to use in near future.
What is CEPA or ETCA?
First the proposal was processed under the name of CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement). Is it a brainchild of Ranil’s government? The answer is no. CEPA was being discussed even during the year of 2000. In 2010, it almost became reality under the Mahinda’s regime. But it was swiftly pulled off as business community in Sri Lanka protested against it vigorously stating the disadvantages Sri Lanka might have.
This year Ranil’s government was trying to give life to CEPA once again under their regime but it came under heavy fire as GMOA (Government Medical Officers’ Association) stood grounds against it. I guess the concern was that it’d allow Indian doctors to come work in Sri Lanka.
Prime minister was quick to reject the allegations. He also went ahead and said there won’t be such agreements with India. But it proved to be wrong after a month or so.
Later the government changed the name of CEPA into ETCA (Economic and Technology Cooperative Agreement). It is probably to convince the unions that, this is completely a new agreement.
As the unions started to give more and more trouble to government, they watered down the agreement’s clauses.
We later learned during a news briefing that, new agreement would allow IT professionals and maritime services.
It means if a professional (Having a recognized university degree) under above mentioned category would be able to cross the border between Sri Lanka and India freely. They can even bring their family to stay with them. It can be done both ways. Sri Lankans can go to India and Indians can come to Sri Lanka.
Why CEPA isn’t bad
Since now we can do business with India without much hassle, investors those who want to enter the Indian market will use Sri Lanka as a gateway. It means, more investments into the country and more job opportunities for Sri Lankans (even if we assume Indians will have jobs, still Sri Lankans will too have jobs).
Currently many companies like Google, Microsoft, HP etc are doing their production in India. But none of these tech giants have presence in Sri Lanka. Even if they do, they don’t do production here. Mostly they are here with their small offices to do sales. (E.g. ) In a positive note, we Sri Lankans will be able to go work in these companies.
Sri Lankan businesses can tap into Indian market. India is a huge country with a very big market. It’ll be an incredible opportunity for Sri Lankan businessmen to expand their business into India.
Why CEPA is bad
Don’t jump your guns yet. Just watch the video below.
After watching this lengthy video (it’s in Sinhala), you’ll realize that Indians are already dominating Sri Lankan market. They are dumping their goods and services into the country and taking so much of our foreign currency to their home. With this new agreement, it’s only going to get worse. They’ll gain upper hand because, they are powerful and they already have established themselves in Sri Lanka.
As for the service sector, we can assume that the Indians those who couldn’t find jobs in India might come here looking for jobs for cheaper wages. So it’ll hurt the local industry. Especially form the employee’s perspective.
I don’t agree with the common myth that Indian engineers are idiots and so cheap. India is a country where you can find both extremes. You can find people who don’t have basic sanitary facility there and also you’ll find billionaires who built houses larger than the largest five star hotels we have in Sri Lanka. Don’t forget the fact that, it’s Indians who are heading companies like Google and Microsoft. So just don’t undermine their capability with common myth or shallow knowledge.
But on the other hand there are handful of incapable engineers everywhere. We often meet them in the freelance sites. I personally don’t like the way they go so cheap with projects and end up messing it up. Either they’ll never deliver the project or will end up taking more money and time from client.
Now this kind of people might turn up in Sri Lanka seeking jobs and accepting offers for very low wages. It’ll bring down the salary scale throughout the industry. Now this is a factor burring many IT professionals inside out.
What we should do
We don’t know CEPA will be signed or not. But we should make sure; we are engineers who can’t be matched by any others. We need to prepare ourselves as highly trained IT force, that anyone from anywhere will not be able to match up and live up to the efficiency of our workforce.
Just like GMOA, we IT professionals need a trade union to represent us. IT profession is a booming industry and employees are often subjected to mistreatment. Now this is high time, we set up a trade union to represent us.
SLASSCOM is a body representing Sri Lankan IT & services industry. They’ve expressed their concern. So it’s not just us.
In my humble opinion, this agreement is just wrong. Some businessmen would like this idea, as they’d be able to get cheap labor. But in the bigger picture, Sri Lanka is the loser.
Can India be able to force other countries such as USA to sign such agreement? They won’t even consider this. So why do you think Sri Lanka should do? Obviously as of now, India bags all the advantage against Sri Lanka via this agreement. So do you really think this agreement worth it?
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