Minister tells investors not to be deterred by vibrant local politics
Says SL’s issues not unique, similar challenges faced by other emerging markets
Points out political turmoil seen even in UK and elsewhere
Assures Govt. still open and ready to work with investors
Says preparing new zones for foreign investors
Outlines strategic advantages, backs FTAs and educated workforce
By Uditha Jayasinghe
International Trade and Development Strategies Minister Malik Samarawickrama yesterday called for investors to not be deterred by Sri Lanka’s political situation and continue to consider it as an attractive investment destination.
Speaking at the Sri Lanka Investment and Business Conclave 2019 organised by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Minister Samarawickrama while acknowledging that Sri Lanka has a vibrant political landscape with politics being knocked into a new gear with the Presidential Elections around the corner, nonetheless assured that the Government remained focused on development and promoting investor-friendly policies.
“Let me state upfront – do not let the domestic politics, and what you read in the news, distract you. Sri Lanka has its fair share of challenges and political issues, just like any democracy and any emerging market. Not just in emerging markets, even in the oldest democracy in the world we are seeing great political turmoil. But two things remain certain and remain clear throughout – one is the ample business opportunities that are available in Sri Lanka, and two is the commitment of the Government to welcome foreign investors and help them succeed here,” he said.
Minister Samarawickrama then went onto extoll Sri Lanka’s investment virtues and measures that have been taken by the Government since it came into power in 2015. He recalled efforts made by the Government to negotiate Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and improve the country’s business environment. He also recounted additional advantages such as geographical position, proximity to the Indian subcontinent and educated workforce.
“The first is that through Sri Lanka, you will have access to a large growing market, beyond our domestic market. We already have preferential access to a market of 1 billion plus, through our FTA with India, which will soon be expanded to a comprehensive agreement covering services and investment. With our proximity to the fast-growing South Indian states, you will have easier access to these markets from Colombo than even from some parts of India.
“We already have an FTA with Pakistan. We are negotiating a Comprehensive FTA with China, and FTAs with Thailand and Bangladesh. As you know, we also have preferential access to the European Union through the GSP Plus trade concessions on over 6,000 tariff lines, and we have GSP access to the US. Together, Sri Lanka’s opportunity is no longer just the 20 million domestic market, but a massive 3.5 billion global market.”
He also highlighted the Singapore FTA signed last year and said the Government remained dedicated to liberalisation, improving competitiveness and attracting new expertise from foreign markets.
“Last year, we signed a landmark Free Trade Agreement with Singapore, which goes beyond goods, to include services, investment, e-commerce, Government procurement, telecommunications, financial services, and economic cooperation. To have done our first comprehensive agreement with a country like Singapore – regarded as being one of the most open and liberalised economies and having high-quality institutions – is an especially important milestone for our country.”
As part of this effort the Government is looking at establishing new industrial zones for foreign investors to encourage them to see the long term potential of Sri Lanka, the Minister said, adding that security issues that cropped up after the Easter Sunday attacks were dealt within a very short period of time and normalcy restored.
“We are also preparing new industrial zones for foreign investors to locate. We recently opened two new zones close to the capital city with easy access from the expressways, and we are developing a new Hambantota Logistics and Industrial Zone in the south of the country. We invite you to invest in these zones, and indeed we are willing to offer a dedicated industrial zone for export-oriented firms from your country to manage and develop as anchor investors.”
He also lauded the macroeconomic fundamentals of Sri Lanka and its prospects for growth. He also said the Government stands ready to support investors despite the political challenges facing the country.
“Sri Lanka offers you a unique opportunity from which to grow your business in this region. In Sri Lanka you will discover a stable macroeconomic climate, a fantastic geographic location, a pleasant living environment, business partners that value good business practices, and a highly trainable workforce.
“My officers in the Ministry and the Board of Investment stand ready to facilitate your projects, with the able guidance from industry bodies like the Ceylon Chamber, and the support from our embassies overseas. I encourage you to come and invest in Sri Lanka now and take advantage of this emerging gateway to South Asia, Europe and Africa,” he added.