U.S. envoy prioritizes strengthening commercial ties between U.S. and Sri Lanka
Thu, Aug 1, 2019, 09:19 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.
Aug 01, Colombo: A thriving, growing Sri Lanka will be a more dynamic market for U.S. goods and services and as Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner and number one export destination, the United States prioritizes strengthening commercial ties between the two countries, the envoy to the country said.
The U.S. Ambassador to Colombo, Aliana B. Teplitz said one of her top priorities was strengthening commercial ties between the two countries and an expanding economy spells growing business opportunities and the chance to eliminate poverty.
“It means a win/win for our country,” she said.
Speaking at the 3rd AGM of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka-USA Business Council about the U.S. government efforts to help grow business and investment opportunities in Sri Lanka, ambassador Teplitz said it’s time to work on expanding the bilateral partnership in a different direction -beyond that of a donor and recipient, toward that of equal partners.
“The United States believes that the strong and inclusive economic growth we hope to see globally and hope to see in Sri Lanka is essential, in fact, here in this country. It’s essential for the defense of Sri Lankan sovereignty and to the advancement of peace and reconciliation on the island. And inclusive growth is also essential to the future of prosperity of the Sri Lankan people, of course.”
Dispelling the misinformation on the proposed five-year assistance agreement from Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), Ambassador Teplitz said in order to promote inclusive economic growth and development, the United States has offered the government and people of Sri Lanka a $480 million grant, not a loan “that might mortgage the future of the country”.
The grant would support efforts to improve the transportation infrastructure and to implement the Sri Lankan government’s land administration reforms without adding a single rupee to the country’s debt.
The Ambassador said the governments of Sri Lanka and the United States collaboratively developed the proposed agreement with significant input from the private sector and civil society a development needs in transportation and land administration were identified as the most significant binding constraints to economic growth in the country.
Under the agreement Sri Lanka will retain oversight and control of all aspects of the proposed projects, all the roads undergoing improvement, every traffic signal and bus network upgraded, and every aspect of the effort to digitize land records and to produce accurate land surveys.
“The United States will not own, control, or in any way administer any land under this agreement,” the Ambassador stressed.
The first project under the compact addresses traffic congestion which affects the businesses as well as daily lives of people, through an advanced traffic management system and bus modernization program.
Improved mobility is vital to unlocking the economic potential of Sri Lanka, the Ambassador said quoting a 2014 Moratuwa University study which has estimated that the 1.9 million trips per day along the main road corridors connecting Colombo with its suburbs in 2014 will increase to 4.5 million trips a day by 2035.
Moratuwa University estimated the economic cost of congestion, mostly reflected in lost time, as a result of longer commutes to be about 400 billion rupees a year in 2014. That was estimated to increase to 1.8 trillion rupees in 2020.
Teplitz pointed out that for companies, whether it’s a SME or a large business, transporting product to markets or bringing goods to ports or even taking tourists to visit attractions, the company’s bottom line depends on a well-functioning road network.
The bus modernization activity is essential because buses are the main mode of transportation for roughly half the population, and especially the poor. The MCC grant will be used to introduce automated fare collection systems based on smart cards and will help state and private bus operators purchase new state-of-the-art buses among other things.
The United States government is willing to contribute, to give, $350 million to help fix this problem while also upgrading 131 kilometers of interprovincial roadways. Those connecting the Central, Sabaragamuwa, Uva, and Eastern Provinces with the markets and ports in the Western Province. As a result, the United States hopes the Sri Lankan economy will grow.
The Ambassador noted that the land administration portion of this program has attracted much attention, much more than the transport component, even though the dollar value of this program is much less due to some of the misinformation and disinformation in the media, which has suggested the United States is going to own a bunch of land at the end of the project.
The project will help Sri Lanka to develop a more dynamic land market, one that is supported by policy reforms, that offers individuals clear, transferrable titles, and by strengthening digital systems of land information and registration, such as the E-State Land Information Management System and the E-Land Registry that are already in use.
Addressing the question “what’s in it for the United States?” the Ambassador said from the American perspective a thriving, growing Sri Lanka will be a more dynamic market for U.S. goods and services.
“Some countries promote commerce by subsidizing state-owned companies or by making backroom deals. The United States promotes business by helping to improve economies, creating more opportunities for the private sector to compete and more opportunities for communities to become prosperous,” she explained.
“An expanding economy spells growing business opportunities and the chance to eliminate poverty. It means a win/win for our country. That’s what’s in it for me and for you.”
In conclusion, Ambassador Teplitz said the private sector has a key role to play in creating a thriving, global economy of the future. “We would like to support that effort. The United States values new ideas, new approaches, and more effective and affordable products and services that help us all work more productively and meet new needs.”