COLOMBO: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan met his Sri Lankan counterpart Ali Sabry in Riyadh on Thursday, as the crisis-hit island nation seeks to boost economic relations and energy cooperation with the Kingdom.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence in 1948. Since early last year, the government has been battling a shortage of dollars, runaway inflation and a steep recession. It is also in discussions with the International Monetary Fund to secure a $2.9 billion bailout seen as vital to getting its economy back on track.
Sabry is on a state visit to the Kingdom and earlier met the head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Hissein Brahim Taha, and Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Dr. Nayef Falah M Al-Hajraf.
“Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia have a lot of potential in terms of economic cooperation, so they are looking at investment opportunities and everything,” Sabry told Arab News in a telephone interview after the meeting.
“They will look at investment opportunities, particularly in the renewable energy sector … and then they also told us Saudi Arabia is moving toward the next level, and employment opportunities will be available and that they will consider … Sri Lanka,” he said.
In his talks with Prince Faisal, Sabry presented Sri Lanka as a gateway to not only South Asia but the rest of the continent. His country was the “ideal place” to do business, he said.
Sri Lanka’s ambassador in Riyadh, Pakeer Mohideen Amza, said Thursday’s talks had “focused on economic enhancement.”
“We see a lot of positive vibes that have been infused into our relations,” he told Arab News. “It’s a very important visit and I think this will further cement and strengthen the bilateral relationship between our two countries.”
Murtaza Jafferjee, an economist and chairman of the Advocata Institute think tank in Colombo, said engaging with Saudi Arabia would be beneficial for Sri Lanka.
“There are commercial imperatives factoring in their large public works projects, our large migrant population working in the country and as a potential source of financing and/or investment into Sri Lanka,” he told Arab News.
It also helped that Sabry was in “familiar territory,” Jafferjee said, as the minister had served as Sri Lanka’s consul-general in Jeddah in 1997.
“Stronger relations with the Middle East are essential for Sri Lanka, as it is our main source of energy, destination for immigrant labor and should be developed as a source market for tourists,” he added.
“Hopefully, this trip will yield a productive outcome for both countries.”