India [ Images ] and Sri Lanka [ Images ] on Tuesday signed two separate agreements on combating international terrorism and avoidance of double taxation, eyeing elevation of "robust" bilateral ties to building of a special economic partnership.
The two key accords were signed after the 8th India-Sri Lanka Joint Commission meeting held in New Delhi [ Images ] discussed enhanced cooperation in a range of areas including civil nuclear energy.
At the meeting, the Indian side was led by External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid while the Lankans were led by his counterpart G L Peiris.
The two sides also discussed the emotive issue of fishermen and rehabilitation process of Tamils in Sri Lanka besides the 13th Amendment of the Lankan constitution that gives autonomy to provinces.
"We comprehensively reviewed bilateral relations," Khurshid told reporters. The minister said that in his separate discussions with Peiris, he referred to the need for continued dialogue between the Lankan government and representatives of Sri Lankan Tamil community. He said this has to be done "with a view towards ensuring a future for the Tamil community that is marked by equality, dignity, justice and self-respect all of which are respected by Sri Lanka.
"We hope that there will be early progress on meaningful devolution building upon the 13th Amendment and leading to national reconciliation," said Khurshid.
India and Sri Lanka are each other's largest trade partners in South Asia.
"Given the vast untapped potential, we have stressed the need for intensive consultations towards a more comprehensive framework for economic cooperation and building of a special economic partnership," Khurshid said.
"In this context, it was also agreed to initiate a dialogue between the commerce secretary of India and secretary of the ministry of finance and economic development of Sri Lanka at an early date to evolve a framework for a special economic partnership between the two countries," a joint statement issued after the meeting said.
Khurshid noted that India is the largest foreign direct investor in Sri Lanka.
The two sides agreed to encourage closer economic and trade linkages between all stakeholders with a view to doubling bilateral trade to $10 billion in the next three years.
"We are working on setting up of a Special Economic Zone in Trincomalee and a pharmaceutical and a textiles cluster elsewhere in Sri Lanka," Khurshid said.
On his part, Peiris stressed that Sri Lanka was moving into a "new era" and underlined that the economic ties between the two countries was no longer a "one-way relationship". He said the Lankan private sector has been contributing to Indian economy. He denied the recent hike in duty for the automobile sector that affected Indian companies was aimed at India.
"It is not a political decision and neither a discriminatory one aimed at India. There has been some misunderstanding," he said adding criterion for increased duty was based on engine capacity.
On the issue of fishermen, the Lankan foreign minister said "very clear" orders have been given to the Lanka navy that there should not be any violence. "These instructions are being scrupulously followed," he said.
Khurshid said the JCM agreed on the need to extend humane treatment and abjuring of violence against fishermen of the two countries.
Khurshid noted that India and Sri Lanka enjoy a growing defence relationship built on extensive training and service-to-service linkages.
"We today reviewed our mutual strategic interests, in view of the commonality of concerns, including with respect to the safety and security of sea lanes of communication. We agreed to promote dialogue on security and defence issues of relevance in bilateral as well as in regional context," he said.
In a joint statement later, the two sides said both have decided to take several steps to deepen trade, tourism and investment relations.
The two sides also agreed to meet at the earliest to explore the possibility of signing a revised air services agreement and work towards resumption of ferry services between Talaimannar and Rameswaram. They described the Sampur power project as a "landmark" initiative and directed officials concerned on both sides to work towards its implementation so that projects goes on-stream by 2016.
Both sides also agreed to jointly celebrate the 150th birth anniversaries of Swami Vivekananda and Anagarika Dharmapala.
Peiris also called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [ Images ].