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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Relations between Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka are based on common values, mutual respect, support and non interference according to Colombo’s ambassador in Riyadh, Pakeer Mohideen Amza.
Speaking at a reception on the 76th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s Independence, he said: “Sri Lanka-Saudi Arabia relations date back to several centuries. Sri Lanka was a pivotal point in the historic silk route which was used extensively by the Arab traders. In ancient times Arabs called Sri Lanka ‘Serendip,’ which later added to the English vocabulary as ‘serendipity.’”
The ambassador said the Sri Lankan leadership had on numerous occasions expressed admiration for Saudi Vision 2030, which he said was a well-thought-out strategy that takes into consideration the Kingdom’s strengths and capabilities, as well as the impressive progress that has been made under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Sri Lanka is pleased that Riyadh will host Expo 2030, which Colombo was among the first to support, he added.
Amza noted that the past two years have been extremely productive for relations between the two states.
In March 2022 Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan visited Sri Lanka.
“This was the first ever bilateral foreign ministerial visit from the Kingdom to Sri Lanka, ever since we established diplomatic relations in 1974,” Amza said.
Subsequently, Ali Sabry, Sri Lanka’s minister of foreign affairs, visited Saudi Arabia early last year.
The past two years have also witnessed nearly a dozen ministerial visits from Colombo to Riyadh and vice versa, the last being the visit by Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal Al-Ibrahim in November 2023 which helped to draw a road map for future economic cooperation between the two countries.
Both countries have also inked three agreements covering avoidance of double taxation, foreign employment and political consultation in the past year.
The first session of the joint commission between the two countries was held in Riyadh in May 2023 during which 63 areas covering trade, industry, investment, energy, finance, economy, transport, communication, agriculture, education, health, sports, culture , tourism, security, judicial and labor were identified for further cooperation, said the ambassador.
Last year also saw an increase in employment opportunities for Sri Lankans in Saudi Arabia, with the Kingdom generating 63,000 posts for Sri Lankans, he added.
“Of the annual remittances to Sri Lanka amounting to $7-8 billion a year, 15 to 20 percent has been generated by the Sri Lankans living in the Kingdom,” said Amza.
The number of Saudi nationals visiting Sri Lanka is gaining momentum as well, following several tourism events held with the active participation of numerous tour operators, including the official launch of the Ibn Battuta Trail Travel Package, tracing the path of the 14th century traveler, he added.
The ambassador extended greetings to fellow Sri Lankan nationals living in Saudi Arabia.
“Our post-independence journey had ups and downs, like any other country. We have had challenges and opportunities. Thankfully the path of our recovery is steady and encouraging. Sri Lanka’s inflation, which was 70 percent in September 2022, has now come down to 5 percent. The rupee has stabilized. Remittances have seen a 60 percent increase year-on-year from 2022-2023. Tourism has seen an annual growth of 106 percent in the year 2023 (and) our reserves, which were at $20 million in April 2022, have risen to $4.5 billion by January 2024.”
The reception was attended by senior Saudi officials, diplomats, entrepreneurs and members of the Sri Lankan community in the Kingdom.
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