India, Japan and Sri Lanka had signed an agreement in 2019 on jointly developing the East Container Terminal (ECT) of Colombo port.

The Sri Lankan government gave in to pressure from labour unions, which are opposed to a joint venture with Indian and Japanese investors having a 49% stake in the ECT, and decided to run the terminal as a fully owned operation of the Sri Lanka Port Authority (SLPA). (AFP PHOTO)

India on Thursday again emphasised the importance of Sri Lanka adhering to international commitments under a trilateral agreement for developing a key port terminal following Colombo’s decision to hand over the facility to a state-run entity.

India, Japan and Sri Lanka had signed an agreement in 2019 on jointly developing the East Container Terminal (ECT) of Colombo port. However, the Sri Lankan government gave in to pressure from labour unions, which are opposed to a joint venture with Indian and Japanese investors having a 49% stake in the ECT, and decided on Monday to run the terminal as a fully owned operation of the Sri Lanka Port Authority (SLPA).

India responded to the move by calling on Sri Lanka to abide by the trilateral agreement, while Japan described the Sri Lankan government’s unilateral decision as “regrettable”.

Asked about the issue at a weekly news briefing, external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said the memorandum of cooperation signed by the three countries in May 2019 envisaged the development and operation of the ECT in a trilateral framework.

“We sincerely believe that the development of infrastructure in Sri Lanka, in areas such as ports and energy, with foreign investment from India and Japan will be a mutually beneficial proposition,” he said.

“Our high commissioner in Colombo is in discussion with the government of Sri Lanka, including on the importance of adhering to international commitments,” he added.

The Indian envoy has held separate meetings with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and foreign minister Dinesh Gunawerdene to convey India’s position that Sri Lanka must abide by the agreement. The Japanese envoy too has met the Sri Lankan leadership to discuss the matter.

India’s Adani Group and several Japanese investors were to form a joint venture to hold 49% stake in the ECT, with the majority stake in the hands of SLPA. India has also informed the Sri Lankan leadership that the decision could hit investor confidence.