Canada-Sri Lanka relations
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Canada and Sri Lanka have a long-standing bilateral partnership based on shared participation in the Commonwealth and multilateral forums, a long-standing development assistance program, cooperation to counter the illegal movement of people and goods, a relatively modest but consistent commercial relationship and a vibrant community of Canadians of Sri Lankan origin. Canadian interest in Sri Lanka is also driven by a foreign policy commitment to the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
In response to Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, Canada has remained committed to standing with the people of Sri Lanka and has provided humanitarian assistance, including support to help address the shortfall in medicines and medical supplies and to increase food security. Canada continues to encourage efforts towards the implementation of necessary political and economic reforms that will help alleviate the hardships facing Sri Lankans while also protecting Sri Lankan democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
In Sri Lanka, Canada is represented by the Canadian High Commission in Colombo. Sri Lanka is represented in Canada by the High Commission of Sri Lanka in Ottawa as well as its consulates in Montréal, Toronto, and Vancouver.
Strong people-to-people ties exist between the two countries. Canada is home to approximately 200,000 individuals of Sri Lankan descent, living primarily in the Greater Toronto area, the majority being of Tamil origin. Canada's Sri Lankan Tamil population is thought to constitute the largest such diaspora in the world outside of India.
Canada works through bilateral and multilateral forums to advocate for sustained progress on Sri Lanka’s commitments to promote and protect human rights. As a member of the Core Group on Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council since 2018, Canada has made constructive recommendations to the Government of Sri Lanka with respect to the situation of human rights in the country. Canada continues to support Human Rights Council resolutions on Sri Lanka and encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to work cooperatively with all stakeholders in fulfilling its various human rights obligations. These include ensuring that constitutional reforms guarantee equal protections, rights and treatment of all individuals without discrimination on any basis, whether it be faith, gender, caste, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity or language. Canada also continues to underscore the need to uphold the fundamental democratic freedoms of Sri Lankans, such as freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest.
Canada will continue to collaborate alongside international partners, including through relevant multilateral bodies, to advocate for human rights and accountability in Sri Lanka, which is an important step toward securing meaningful, long term peace and reconciliation for the country.
Canada’s commercial relationship with Sri Lanka over recent years has been relatively modest but consistent, with growth seen in particular sectors. In 2021, total merchandise trade between Canada and Sri Lanka was $599.7 million. Canadian merchandise exports to Sri Lanka were $130.3 million in 2021, down 45.1% from 2020; cereal and vegetable products made up 67.1% of all exports. Canadian merchandise imports from Sri Lanka reached $469.3 million in 2021, up 25.6% from 2020. Garments (both woven and knitted, as well as not knitted nor woven) made up 56% of all imports.
Canadian companies will find a concentration of business opportunities in agriculture and agri-food, education, and transportation infrastructure. There are also niche opportunities in cleantech, information and communication technologies and life sciences sectors. Canada and Sri Lanka have had a code-share Air Transport Agreement (ATA) in place since 2016 which facilitates greater trade, investment and people-to-people links between the two countries.
There is growing demand for quality Canadian higher education. As of December 31, 2021, there were 2,750 study permits of 6 months or more held by Sri Lankan students in Canada, up from 1,660 permits held in 2020, which represents a 66% growth rate.
In 2021, the Canadian direct investment position in Sri Lanka was $165 million, down 21.1% from 2020.
Canada’s bilateral international assistance programming in Sri Lanka focuses on three action areas of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy: gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, growth that works for everyone and inclusive governance. Programming includes initiatives that promote Sinhala-Tamil language equality and land mine clearance. Global Affairs Canada also provides technical and financial assistance to Sri Lankan women’s rights organizations, and supports gender-responsive business development.
In addition to bilateral programming, Global Affairs Canada supports initiatives to advance peace and reconciliation, strengthen the impact of women peacebuilders, and tackle hate speech and disinformation. Global Affairs Canada also assists Sri Lankan authorities to combat human smuggling. Through deployment of Canadian volunteers to Sri Lanka, Global Affairs Canada supports youth entrepreneurship and innovation. In addition, through the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), Canada funds small-scale projects in areas such as combating corruption and advancing women’s economic empowerment.
In 2020-21, Canada contributed a total of $18.79 million in international assistance to Sri Lanka. For more information on our programming, please see the Project Browser.
Partnerships and organizations
To develop effective responses to today’s most pressing global challenges, Canada and Sri Lanka work closely in multilateral fora, such as:
- International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
- Open Government Partnership (OGP)
- United Nations (UN)
- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
- World Trade Organization (WTO)
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