Foreign relations

Natural flair in handling international affairs

The 2010-2015 period in office amply highlights the natural flair of Dr Rajitha in handling international affairs. As the Fisheries Minister he strengthened country’s rapport with the both global and regional fisheries management and development organizations such as Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations(FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) etc. At the time Dr Rajitha took office, Sri Lanka was almost completely disengaged with regional fisheries management bodies and virtually about to be black listed. Soon after assuming office as the Minister of Fisheries he was propelled to international limelight due to his balanced but defiant approach by challenging the restrictions imposed by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) on Sri Lanka’s right to expand its tuna fisheries, especially fishing in international waters. The imposition of quotas by IOTC was negated by a collective effort initiated by Sri Lanka through the formation of a group of 17 “Like Minded Countries”, with Sri Lanka’s leadership, a move much appreciated by the coastal fishing nations in the Indian Ocean to date. In fact credit goes to Dr Senaratne for hosting the most successful and best attended IOTC sessions in Sri Lanka from 17th to 25th March 2011 with the participation of 25 countries and nearly 300 participants form all over the world. Dr Rajitha also took the initiative to broad base the Sri Lankan fishery industry by promoting the development of its multi-day fleet and joint fishing operations to expand fishing in international waters, challenging the virtual monopoly held by distant fishing nations such as the EU. Parallel to fleet development Dr Rajitha also took steps to modernise the fleet operations to make them accountable to international reporting procedures to address Illegal fishing (IUU) through initiating the installation of Vessel Monitoring Systems in all larger vessels, a process now nearing completion. The post 2010 period also saw an increase in poaching in our Northern waters by Indian trawlers. Armed with facts and figures Dr Rajitha convinced his Ministerial colleagues and Foreign Secretaries in New Delhi the illegality of the process and stood by Sri Lanka’s right to defend its territorial from intrusions, a step which saw a major decline in intrusions by late2014. His dynamic, development oriented programmes have caught the attention of many countries and international organizations. His thought provoking key note address to the 11th INFOFISH World Tuna Trade Conference in Bangkok in September 2010 was given wide publicity in the world media. Dr Rajitha won wide acclaim for holding the much successful Ministerial Meeting on Aquaculture for the Asia Pacific Region in July 2011 with the participation of 28 countries where the Colombo Declaration on Aquaculture Development was adopted . His thought provoking key note address to the 11th INFOFISH World Tuna Trade Conference in Bangkok in September 2010 and at Yeosu Expo Korea in 2013 and contributions to FAO Rome Council Sessions, FAO Trade and Aquaculture Sub Committees and various international forums have won much acclaim. Assuming office as the Minister of Health and Indigenous Medicine in January 2015 , Dr Rajitha continued promoting international cooperation in developing the health sector. During his maiden visit to India he held discussions with Indian Health authorities on cooperation in the integrated development of the Indigenous medical system in line with the Ayush concept. In his address to the 68th World Health Assembly, Geneva in May, attended by Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany and a large number of Health Ministers from over 150 countries all over the world, Dr Rajitha highlighted the progress Sri Lanka has made in achieving Millennium Development Goals and universal health coverage, particularly with respect to Maternal & Child Health and the control of communicable diseases. He also addressed the 8th Meeting of the Non – Aligned Movement Ministers of Health - “Building Resilient Health Systems” which was held in tandem with the 68th World Health Assembly. Sri Lanka also sponsored a side event to highlight its success in further strengthening the pictorial warnings on cigarettes. Meanwhile, Ministry of Health has also made arrangements to host the 24th Triennial Meeting of the Commonwealth Medical Association from 14 to 16 October 2016. During Dr Rajitha’s recent visit to China in a Presidential entourage several agreements were made to support the Ministry’s efforts in addressing the chronic kidney disease situation in the country and the quality/safety assurance of drugs in line with the current drug regulatory developments in the country.