BEIJING Feb 13 China and Sri Lanka could sign a
free trade agreement by the end of the year, state news agency
Xinhua cited Sri Lanka's foreign minister as saying.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris, who is on a
four-day visit to China, said "the feasibility study is on the
verge of completion".
Peiris told Xinhua in an interview on Wednesday it would be
the most significant bilateral achievement since the 1952
Rubber-Rice Pact, when rubber and rice was bartered between
China and Sri Lanka.
China has increasingly tight ties with Sri Lanka, funding
airports, roads, railways and ports. Those ties have unsettled
India, traditionally Sri Lanka's closest economic partner.
The island of 21 million people just off India's southern
tip is at the forefront of competition between Asian giants
China and India.
China has consistently defended Sri Lanka's rights record,
which came under fire at a Commonwealth summit in November,
saying Colombo had made big strides in promoting human rights
and achieving national reconciliation over the years.
On Tuesday, China's Foreign Minister offered support for Sri
Lanka after the United States said it would table a U.N.
resolution against Colombo over its human rights record.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government, which finally
crushed a 26-year rebellion by ethnic minority Tamil separatists
in 2009, has rejected calls for an international inquiry into
atrocities during the civil war.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Paul Tait)