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. Germany’s then Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Sri Lanka on 22 September 2015. Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena paid an official visit to Berlin on 17 and 18 February 2016 at the invitation of Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel. In April 2017 the then President of the German Bundestag, Norbert Lammert, visited Sri Lanka, while a Sri Lankan parliamentary delegation led by the Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, Karu Jayasuriya, visited Berlin and Schwerin in June 2017 as part of the Guest Programme of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Germany is engaged in a variety of ways in Sri Lanka (through the Goethe-Institut, the South Asia Institute and friendship societies) and is respected and valued as a reliable partner. The German political foundations that had been active in the country terminated their local programme work in 2013. The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom reopened its office in Colombo in early 2016. The other political foundations have also resumed their project work in the country.
Together with its European Union partners and other Western countries, Germany is monitoring and promoting 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 30 years, the focus is on achieving 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 – Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) – as well as through German NGOs. In addition, Germany provided one million euros in humanitarian aid following the severe flooding and landslides that hit the country in May 2016, and another 100,000 euros in June 2017.
For years, Sri Lanka’s exports to Germany have been worth about twice as much as its imports from Germany. 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 around 130,000 in 2017.
Sri Lanka has concluded the following agreements with Germany:
• trade agreements (1950, 1955, 1958)
• investment promotion and protection agreement (2000)
• framework agreement on technical cooperation (1973)
• air transport agreements (1973, 1995)
• double taxation agreement (1979).
In 2018, bilateral trade with Sri Lanka was worth 81.056 million euros, compared with 1.2 billion euros the previous year. During the same period, German imports from Sri Lanka grew by 10.7 percent, to 705 million euros, while German exports to Sri Lanka increased by 38.59 percent to 350 million euros. Germany’s main imports from Sri Lanka are textiles, rubber and tea, and its main exports to Sri Lanka are machinery, electrical goods, chemical products and motor vehicles. For years, Germany has recorded a trade deficit with Sri Lanka.
Germany has traditionally been one of Sri Lanka’s most important source markets for tourism. Recent years have seen marked increases in the number of German tourists: 46,000 in 2010, 56,000 in 2011, 72,000 in 2012, 85,000 in 2013, 103,000 in 2014, 116,000 in 2015, 133,000 in 2016, 130,000 in 2017, 157,000 in 2018.
The German companies that have invested in Sri Lanka during the last few decades have created some 12,000 jobs for the local population. German direct investment in Sri Lanka totalled around 6 million US dollars in 2017. 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. A Delegation of German Industry and Commerce was opened in Colombo in March 2018.
Germany has been one of Sri Lanka’s most important 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.
Development cooperation with Sri Lanka concentrates today on reconciliation, social integration, education, private sector promotion 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 Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ):
• vocational training
• peace education
• development of small and medium-sized businesses
• support for management of the Wilpattu National Park and border zones
• a culture of remembrance
A high point in bilateral development cooperation in 2017 was the launch of the project Strengthening Reconciliation in Sri Lanka with funding from the EU and the Federal Foreign Office totalling just under 15 million euros.
In addition, KfW is supporting the building of a new maternity hospital in Galle by providing a low-interest loan of more than 40 million euros.
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 percent. There are, however, university places available for only around 20 percent of school leavers.
German enjoys increasing popularity as the third language taught at schools in Sri Lanka, with more than 6500 students currently learning German.
The Goethe-Institut in Sri Lanka is supporting around 50 local schools and five 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 the University of Moratuwa on the one side, and the Universities of Giessen, Heidelberg and Mainz on the other. The cooperation between the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Sri Lankan University Grants Commission (UGC) was stepped up with the signing of a memorandum of understanding in February 2016. The DAAD signed a further memorandum of understanding with the National Science Foundation in 2018. The DAAD has had an Information Centre in Colombo since September 2017.
A Sri Lanka Chair was established at the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg in 2016. With funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, a University of Erlangen research project has been financed in Sri Lanka since 2017: it is examining the link between chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology and water quality. The cultural scene in Sri Lanka is 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-Institut in Sri Lanka is reaching new target groups with its innovative ideas and unusual projects. Cooperation among the three European cultural institutes active in the country (the Goethe-Institut, the Alliance Française and the British Council) is formalised under the umbrella of the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC). The education projects being implemented by GIZ are also viewed very positively by the Sri Lankan population. As part of the Visitors Programme of the Federal Republic of Germany, every year Sri Lankan guests are also invited to participate in culture-based programmes in Germany. In 2019, the Federal Foreign Office made it possible to send an outstanding graduate of the Academy of Design (AoD) to the Berlin Fashion week.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its contents.