Sri Lanka and the Republic of Korea, as two Asian countries, enjoy longstanding friendly relations. Historical Buddhist links between Sri Lanka and the Republic of Korea go back to the 5th century AD. In modern times, since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and the Republic of Korea on 14 November 1977, there has been a steady expansion of bilateral relations in the political, economic and cultural spheres, and people-to-people contacts.
In terms of recent high-level visits, the State Visit of President Maithripala Sirisena to the Republic of Korea, on the invitation of the Korean President Moon Jae-in, which took place in November 2017, is significant as the two countries celebrated the important milestone of 40 years of diplomatic relations in 2017. The official visits of the Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se to Sri Lanka in March 2017, and of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Managala Samaraweera to the Republic of Korea in March 2016 had greater focus on widening and deepening the existing friendly relations with the Republic of Korea, with particular emphasis on the political and economic spheres. These friendly ties are poised to be further strengthened this year.
Economic relations between Sri Lanka and the Republic of Korea are of utmost importance. Sri Lanka is a lower middle-income country with a GDP per capita of USD 4,065 and a population of 21 million.
There is a steady increase in bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and the Republic of Korea which currently stands at approximately USD 400 million. Sri Lanka is a producer of high-quality ethical apparel for top global brands, the world’s third largest exporter and forth largest producer of tea, the world’s largest exporter of high quality industrial solid tyres, the world’s largest exporter of ‘true cinnamon’ (Ceylon cinnamon) and has the world’s greatest concentration of gemstones, and is world renowned for its blue sapphires. There also exists much potential to export ICT and BPO / BPM services, sea food and fisheries products, aquarium fish, fruit and vegetable, and floriculture products to the Republic of Korea.
The Republic of Korea is an important source of investment including Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to Sri Lanka. Korean investment has over 75 companies based in Sri Lanka and has generated more than 18,000 job opportunities in the country.
Sri Lanka is a top tourist destination, and tourism is also a fast growing and lucrative sector to invest in. The Lonely planet has named Sri Lanka as the number one destination to visit in 2019. Korean air commenced three direct flights a week between Seoul-Colombo from 2013. Korean tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka which stood at 4,318 in 2010, has increased to 15,963 in 2017, registering a 270% growth.
Development Cooperation is an important aspect of the bilateral relationship offered via the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and the Korea Exim Bank Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF). Its importance is demonstrated by the fact that Sri Lanka stands as the third highest recipient of Korean ODA in terms of cumulative disbursements (USD 481 million), and is placed at number five in terms of commitments (USD 842 million). The total cumulative assistance provided by the KOICA for Sri Lanka from 1991 to 2017 stands at USD136 million.
Labour relations forms an important dimension of bilateral relations with approximately 28,000 Sri Lankan contractual employees engaged in the manufacturing, construction and fishery sectors under the Employment Permit System (EPS) in the Republic of Korea.
The year 2018 is of particular significance to bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and the Republic of Korea as the two countries hold the 2nd round of bilateral political consultations between the two Ministries of Foreign Affairs in Sri Lanka in June 2018 after five years. In addition, given the potential for the expansion of trade and investment, a Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation (JC) between the two countries has been established in 2018 and the first meeting of the JC was held in Colombo in June 2018.
Collaborations between the two countries also exist at a greater level including in academia, science and technology, defence, and cultural relations. The bilateral relations between the Republic of Korea and Sri Lanka continue to deepen gradually to a remarkable state.