India, Sri Lanka should focus on closer economic ties: Mukherjee

President Pranab Mukherjee has said India and Sri Lanka should focus on "closer economic integration" by building on the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and promote cross-investments by companies.

IANS| Last Updated: Feb 17, 2015, 16:37 PM IST

New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee has said India and Sri Lanka should focus on "closer economic integration" by building on the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and promote cross-investments by companies.

He was speaking at a banquet hosted for Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and his wife Jayanthi Sirisena at Rashtrapati Bhavan here Monday.

Mukherjee said he appreciated Sirisena`s decision of choosing India for his first visit abroad after being elected president.

"Trade between India and Sri Lanka is more than USD 5 billion. Both countries should focus on closer economic integration by building on the Free Trade Agreement and promote cross-investments by companies. India is keen to promote greater connectivity between the two countries," Mukherjee said.

"The first FTA that India signed with any country was with Sri Lanka. It is time to take the economic engagement to the next level. There has been a resurgence in the Indian economy over the last year, and Sri Lanka is well-placed to take full advantage of this," he said.

However, Mukherjee added that the issue of fishermen is an "emotive one" that concerns the livelihood of fishermen from both the countries and said that he had "no doubt" that both the countries can handle the issue with due care and sensitivity.

He said relations between India and Sri Lanka were unique and based upon shared historical, cultural, ethnic and civilizational ties as well as extensive people-to-people interaction.

"This relationship is marked by close contacts at the highest political level, growing trade and investment, infrastructural linkages, cooperation in the fields of development, education, culture and defence as well as a broad understanding on major issues of international interest."

The President said India as a close neighbour has watched developments in Sri Lanka with deep interest and the end of the armed conflict in 2009 was a historic opportunity to find a meaningful and lasting solution to the issues concerning the Sri Lankan Tamil minority.

Responding to Mukherjee, the Sri Lankan President said his talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi were fruitful and laid the foundation for an expansion in bilateral relations.