Last updated in September 2016
For over 60 years, diplomatic relations between Germany and Sri Lanka have provided a sound basis for cooperation. Political relations have gained momentum since early 2015. Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier visited Sri Lanka on 22 September 2015. Sri Lanka’s President Sirisena paid an official visit to Berlin on 17 and 18 February 2016 at the invitation of Federal Chancellor Merkel. In April 2016, the Parliamentary Friendship Group for Relations with the States of South Asia paid a several-day visit to Sri Lanka. This was followed, in May 2016, by a visit by Parliamentary State Secretary Beckmeyer, who was accompanied by a business delegation.
Germany is engaged in a variety of ways in Sri Lanka (through the Goethe Institute, the South Asia Institute and friendship societies) and is respected and valued as a reliable partner. The German political foundations that were active in the country terminated their local programme work in 2013. The Friedrich Naumann Foundation re-opened its office in Colombo in early 2016.
Together with its European Union partners and other Western countries, Germany is monitoring respect for human rights in Sri Lanka and the development of the reconciliation process which has been revitalised by the Sri Lankan government. In the wake of a civil war that lasted nearly thirty years, the focus is on achieving a lasting reconciliation between the country’s different ethnic groups.
In the war-ravaged north and east of the country, Germany is helping with reconstruction and the reconciliation process. Support is provided through international organisations, the implementing agencies of German development cooperation – the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the KfW Development Bank – as well as through German non-governmental organisations. In addition, Germany provided EUR 1 million in humanitarian aid following the severe floods and landslides in May 2016.
For years, Sri Lanka’s exports to Germany have been worth about twice as much as its imports from there. Germany is Sri Lanka’s third most important export market. For many years, Germans have also made up a large portion of the foreign tourists visiting Sri Lanka. They numbered nearly 116,000 in 2015.
Sri Lanka has concluded the following agreements with Germany:
- trade agreements (1950, 1955 and 1958)
- investment promotion and protection agreement (2000)
- framework agreement on Technical Cooperation (1973)
- air transport agreements (1973 and 1995)
- double taxation agreement (1979)
In 2015, bilateral trade with Sri Lanka was worth EUR 814.3 million, compared with EUR 699.5 million in the previous year. German imports from Sri Lanka grew by 9.6 per cent, to EUR 527.8 million, German exports to Sri Lanka also growing, by 31.5 per cent to EUR 286.5 million. Germany’s main imports from Sri Lanka are textiles, rubber and tea, and its chief exports to there are machinery, electrical goods, chemical products and motor vehicles. For years, Germany has recorded a balance of trade deficit with Sri Lanka.
Germany has traditionally been one of Sri Lanka’s most important partners in terms of tourism. Recent years have seen marked increases in the number of German visitors: 46,000 in 2010, 56,000 in 2011, 72,000 in 2012, 85,000 in 2013, 103,000 in 2014 and 116,000 in 2015.
The 51 German companies that have invested in Sri Lanka since 1978 have created some 12,000 jobs for the local population. German direct investment in Sri Lanka since 2005 totals more than USD 80 million (USD 14.5 million in 2015). Founded in 1999, the Sri Lanka-Germany Business Council, in which businesspeople from both countries are seeking to promote bilateral economic relations, has 110 members.
Germany has been one of Sri Lanka’s principal bilateral donors since the late 1950s.
After the civil war flared up again in 2006, development cooperation was restructured to focus on conflict transformation and peacebuilding. German development cooperation with Sri Lanka currently follows the OECD principle of “staying engaged – but differently”, with a focus on social integration and conflict transformation.
Development cooperation with Sri Lanka concentrates on the following areas: social integration, education, promoting the private sector and vocational training, with a regional focus on the north and north-east of the country.
The following projects are currently being conducted in Sri Lanka by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ):
- promoting social integration and transformation initiatives
- vocational education and training in the north and east of the country
- peace education
- development of small and medium-sized businesses
- support for management of the Wilpattu National Park and border zones
A high point in bilateral development cooperation in 2016 was the opening of the new vocational training centre in Kilinochchi in the north of the country. The inauguration ceremony on 18 July was attended by Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena.
In addition, the KfW Development Bank is supporting the building of a new maternity hospital in Galle by providing a low-interest loan worth more than EUR 28 million.
Culture and education
Sri Lanka’s school system scores very highly compared with that of other countries in the region. The literacy rate among 15- to 24-year-olds is more than 98 per cent. There are, however, university places available for only around 20 per cent of school-leavers.
German enjoys increasing popularity as the third language taught at schools in Sri Lanka, with more than 4,000 students currently learning German. The Goethe Institute in Sri Lanka supports 14 local schools and four partner schools under the Schools: Partners for the Future (PASCH) initiative.
There are a number of university partnerships, including those between the University of Colombo, the University of Kelaniya and Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka on the one side, and the Universities of Giessen, Heidelberg, Mainz and Erlangen on the other. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) office in New Delhi is also responsible for Sri Lanka.
Cultural offerings in Sri Lanka are modest by international standards, but this sector has developed considerable momentum since the end of the civil war in 2009. Nevertheless, culture is not a priority of the Sri Lankan government, given the more urgent problems it faces. In February 2016, Sri Lanka and Germany signed a Joint Declaration of Intent regarding cooperation on cultural relations and education policy, which covers academic exchange, promoting the German language, sport and cultural projects.
The Goethe Institute (GI) in Sri Lanka is reaching new target groups with its innovative ideas and unusual projects. Cooperation between the three European cultural institutes active there (GI, Alliance Française and British Council) is formalised under the umbrella of the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC). The education projects being implemented by the GIZ are also viewed very positively by the Sri Lankan population.
As part of the Federal Republic of Germany’s Visitors Programme, every year Sri Lankan guests are invited to attend cultural events in Germany, e.g. the Berlin Film Festival, the Berlin Theatertreffen (Theatre Meeting), the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Berlin Art Week.