(Nisha Desai Biswal)
Testimony of the Nisha Desai Biswal, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Washington, DC at on 2017’s budget priorities.
I will now turn to Sri Lanka, where our bilateral relationship has been transformed over the past year, thanks to a unity government led by a president and prime minister that are committed to reforms that can benefit all Sri Lankans. Sri Lanka now has the opportunity to assume its rightful place as a leader in the international community, one that contributes to the global economy; promotes human rights, accountability, transitional justice, and democracy; and that helps to uphold international law. Sri Lanka’s strategic position in the Indian Ocean makes it a key player in regional efforts to ensure maritime security, protect freedom of navigation, and respond to natural disasters. And its natural ports, abundant resources, and entrepreneurial people all mean enormous potential for economic growth and connectivity. With all of these factors in mind, our FY 2017 budget request of $39.8 million will support the government’s reforms to stimulate trade and investment, improve governance and human rights, and pursue reconciliation and accountability.
Our diplomatic relations are at an all-time high, and we are now working with Sri Lanka to implement the steps agreed to in the resolution we jointly sponsored at the UN Human Rights Council last year. We also support reconciliation through our public diplomacy programs, such as by teaching English, which serves as a linking language between Sri Lankan Sinhalese and Tamil communities. Embassy Colombo is also working to strengthen Sri Lanka’s media environment through training for journalists on access to information, increasing diversity in types of stories covered, and improving English language skills.
This past month, we launched the U.S.-Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue, which expanded and reinforced our cooperation in development, governance, energy, trade, and security. And our approach to make Sri Lanka’s economy stronger is truly whole-of government. The USTR just hosted the U.S.-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council Meeting at the end of April. Through the Department of Commerce, we train Sri Lankan business leaders and government officials in best practices for their nascent tourism industry, which is on track to have a banner year. And the Treasury Department will soon embed an advisor in Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Finance, who will assist the ministry with public financial management reforms for the next two years.
Read full statement on South Asia here