SAARC Finance Ministers to deliberate on oil and Gulf worker issues

By Ravi Ladduwahetty

Finance Ministers of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) will meet in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka from February 1-3 to deliberate on issues relating to dollar payments to Iran for petroleum purchases and also vexing security issues relating to migrant workers in the Gulf.

Minister of International Monetary Cooperation Dr Sarath Amunugama will lead the Sri Lanka delegation as the accredited representative of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and will be accompanied by officials of both the Central bank and the Finance Ministry.

The confab will be meant to deliberate on complex issues relating to oil payments in dollars with the current embargo imposed by the United States, Dr Amunugama told The Island yesterday.

"We will be looking at issues in the context of performances of the global market and also in the paradigm of import of manufactured goods as SAARC is a heavy importer of manufactured goods and especially textiles," the Minister said.

The parley will also look at the issues relating to the security of Gulf workers as Sri Lankans, Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are working in the Gulf. This is indeed of paramount significance to Sri Lanka as we have 1.6 million workers who are employed there, he said.

The three day confab had its origin when Bangladeshi Finance Minister AMA Muhith had proposed holding a meeting of SAARC Finance Ministers to discuss fiscal and monetary issues, and ensure greater engagement and cooperation among its member countries.

Muhith came up with the proposal after a bilateral meeting with Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Washington.

There will also be other issues which will be deliberated at the three day parley on energy issues as well, Dr Amunugama said.

Sri Lanka generated 10 billion kWh in 2007, 60% of this from oil. In September 2010 the Sri Lankan government commissioned its Atomic Energy Authority and Ceylon Electricity Board to conduct a pre-feasibility study of using nuclear energy for power generation from about 2025, with technical cooperation from the International Atomic Energy Authority and following IAEA guidelines. It is revising its Atomic Energy Authority Act accordingly. Sri Lankan scientists and technical experts were being sent to Russia for training. 

 In 2011 Sri Lanka announced that it would establish an Atomic Energy Regulatory Council to allow for the introduction of nuclear power generation technology in the country, and also to address concerns over the security of radioactive sources and to deal with radiation emergencies.

Iran the world’s fourth-largest crude producer, completely stopped selling any of its oil for US. Dollars from 2007 which was announced by Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari .

"Nearly all" of Iran’s crude oil sales were now being paid for in non-U.S. currencies. For nearly two years, OPEC’s second biggest producer has been reducing its exposure to the dollar, saying the weak U.S. currency is eroding its purchasing power.

International news reports said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who often rails against the West, has called the U.S. currency a "worthless piece of paper."Foes since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, Tehran and Washington are also at odds over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme as well as over policy in Iraq.

"In line with the policy of selling crude oil in currencies other than the U.S. dollar, currently the sale of our country’s oil in U.S. dollars has been completely eliminated.

"In regards to the decrease in the dollar’s value and the loss exporters of crude oil have endured from this trend, the dollar is no longer a reliable currency."

"This is why, at the meeting of the heads of states, Iran proposed to OPEC members that a currency (for oil exports) would be determined that would be reliable and would not cause any loss to exporter countries," he said.

At a November summit of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries heads of state, Iran suggested oil should be sold in a basket of currencies rather than dollars, but failed to win over other members except Venezuela.

Ahmadinejad and his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, are vocal critics of US influence in the world.

Hojjatollah Ghanimifard, international affairs director of the state owned National Iranian Oil Company, last month said that most of Iran’s oil export earnings were in Euros, with some in yen.

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