Economy and exports will be the key strategy in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy - By Jayampathy Jayasinghe
The Sunday Times
27 Sep 2015

Steps will be taken to revolutionise Sri Lanka’s foreign office in the future where economic diplomacy would be the focus and main issue of the new government, said Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Harsha de Silva, who was the Chief Guest at the 23rd National Council of Export (NCE) Awards ceremony held in Colombo last week.

The Deputy Minister said that the Sri Lankan foreign office should do much more in creating Sri Lanka business overseas. “Of course there are a few local businesses established in overseas. How come that Sri Lankan business people like you are not significantly present in the global market place? What is the role of the Sri Lankan government to make your business prosper?” he asked. The Sri Lankan foreign office has a network of people and professionals in many capitals of the world. “But to what extent do they help us in our business? Do they send us monthly reports or give us tips and contacts? I do not know and I am only looking at this (now). In the coming year we will do the best to see that our foreign office officials abroad help us in trade, investment and to take our local businesses to the global market,” he told the audience.

The Deputy Minister noted that he was convinced that there won’t be a future for the country unless there is success in exports. The exporters can succeed or make the country fail. Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives David Daly said the European Union (EU) continues to be Sri Lanka’s leading export market and last year’s exports from Sri Lanka to the EU market was 2.5 billion euros and urged Sri Lankan exporters to do more next year. The EU continues to be Sri Lanka’s biggest market.

By complying with EU rules and regulations of its member states, Sri Lankan businesses could facilitate trade, reduce costs and can access 500 million consumers in the EU. Sri Lanka’s businesses should also make efforts to form partnerships with EU companies. Good governance, transparency, the rule of law and observance of human rights and environmental issues are important aspects in strengthening ties with EU states. He said as far as the GSP + issue and fishing exports issue were concerned the ball is in Sri Lanka’s court.

NCE President Sarada M. De Silva said they were happy that a separate ministry has been created for international trade by the new government for facilitating exports. He said the government has brought optimism to the exporters as the strategy of the government was economy-based exports and inviting foreign investments.

“Most Sri Lankan exports go to Europe and positive signals have now emerged regarding the GSP + concessions granted to local exporters. “We are fully aware of international obligations that Sri Lanka have signed and shall comply to the best of our ability.”
However Sri Lankan exports have drastically fallen during the past decade compared with countries in the region. He said the shortage of skilled personnel in the country was an impediment to exports. SMEs are unable to venture into exports due to lack of finance and risk taking.

The NCE President also said that it was imperative that long term national policies are adopted firmly to support international trade and investment for an accelerated growth in exports and economic development as envisaged by the government.
Several awards were given to the following categories: Tea Value Added sector, Tea bulk sector, Mineral sector, Export of Business, Professional Service Sector, Suppliers / Service Providers to Export sector, Precious Stones and Jewellery sector, Industry sector, Agriculture Value added Sector, Agriculture Bulk sector.