COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is seeking to boost relations with Saudi Arabia through connectivity, investment, and employment opportunities, its foreign minister said on Monday as he began a visit to the Kingdom.
Ali Sabry, who will be visiting until Jan. 27, was scheduled to meet with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan during the official trip, as well as senior officials from the Islamic Development Bank, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Sabry told Arab News in an exclusive interview that Sri Lanka was looking for ways to further relations with Saudi Arabia.
Speaking in Madinah, he said: “Generally, the visit is to further strengthen ongoing discussions to have more connectivity and employment opportunities and investment.
“Traditionally, we have had a good relationship with Saudi Arabia … so we are very hopeful that we can strengthen it.”
Improving bilateral relations was important for Sri Lanka, the minister added, as the Kingdom was “a very influential member of the international community,” especially in the Islamic world and due to its membership in the Group of 20 biggest economies.
The Sri Lankan delegation includes the Minister of Rural Economy Kader Masthan, Sri Lanka’s ambassador in Riyadh, Pakeer Mohideen Amza, and the consul-general in Jeddah, Faiah Moulana.
Sabry’s visit follows a series of high-level engagements by Sri Lankan officials with the Kingdom in the past year. These have included Environment Minister Naseer Ahamed’s visit in August as a special envoy of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, where his meetings had focused on improving energy cooperation.
In November, Labor and Foreign Employment Minister Manusha Nanayakkara met Saudi officials to discuss ways to boost labor relations and find employment opportunities for skilled Sri Lankan workers on infrastructure projects being implemented under Saudi Vision 2030.
With all the “huge developments taking place in Saudi Arabia,” Sri Lanka was eager to “also get their due share in terms of employment and other benefits in different areas,” Sabry said, adding that a discussion to improve trade was also on the agenda.
“When we strengthen the relationship between both countries, it can be a catalyst to a wider, better relationship with the Islamic world,” he said. “So, we are very keen on developing this.”
The island nation of 22 million people has been struggling in the past year with challenges ranging from a shortage of dollars to runaway inflation and a steep recession as it faces its worst financial crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.
Sri Lankan officials are in discussions to reach a final agreement with the International Monetary Fund on a $2.9 billion loan essential to put its battered economy back on track.