From left: NCE Secretary General/CEO Shiham Marikar, Vice President Ravi Jayawardena, incoming President Ramal Jasinghe, chief guest Ambassador of the EU Delegation to Sri Lanka Tung-Lai Margue, guest of honour Verite Executive Director Dr. Nishan De Mel, Vice President Ramya Weerakookn and outgoing President Sarada De Silva Pic by Waruna Wanniarachchi
Sarada De Silva, the outgoing President of the National Chamber of Exporters (NCE), pleaded with the country’s political masters to do away with the ugly habit of ad hoc policy changes, which he termed as the “yes and no” style of policies, which have hurt the progress of the country’s economy and the export trade in particular.
Speaking at the NCE’s 22nd Annual General Meeting Tuesday evening, he urged all politicians to speak in one voice, at least on matters concerning the country’s economy and the future well-being.
The post-independent Sri Lankan economy is marred by a slew of ‘stop-go’ policies, which held back the nation for decades while its Asian peers made faster progress.
This policy inconsistency reached a whole new level during the last two years, particularly after a disastrous budget was presented to parliament in 2015 by the coalition regime, which saw hardly any proposals implemented.
“In an era of ‘yes and no’ and ‘no and yes’ policies have become the mainstay, I wish to request all political parties and the politicians to put the country and the economy first and create an enabling, consistent policies for the business community to deliver the growth that this country needs,” De Silva said in his parting remarks. Despite the government so badly wanting an investment-led export growth strategy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts a lower export growth of 4.5 percent for Sri Lanka this year, from the projected 8.0 percent growth in 2016.
It was only the other day De Silva asked the incumbent regime to solve the existing non-tariff barriers of the Indo-Lanka Free Trade Agreement (FTA) before negotiating a much deeper, goods, services and investment agreement with India.
“What we ask from the government is to solve these existing issues with the FTA first because our exporters go through much stringent and challenging non-tariff barriers when they send their goods to India,” he told the media.
De Silva, an exporter himself, who was instrumental in positioning Ceylon Cinnamon in the global map, therefore said it is of paramount importance for Sri Lanka to create scale before any deeper integration with any country.
It was only last week, Asian Development Bank Advisor to Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department Dr. Ganeshan Wignaraja urged the Lankan policymakers to follow the right sequence before getting into FTAs as politicos like the limelight when signing FTAs but only to realise later a lot more domestic reforms should have been carried out before the accord.
Meanwhile, incoming NCE President Ramal Jayasinghe said despite the possible restoration of the GSP Plus tariff concession, the country would only be able to enjoy the tariff concessions for a brief period given the country’s march towards an upper middle-income status.
Earlier this week, economist and former central banker Dr. W.A. Wijewardena stated in his weekly column with our sister paper Daily FT that given the current projected economic growth rates, Sri Lanka would see a natural exit from GSP Plus tariff concession by 2020, hence urged the authorities to act swiftly.
Jayasinghe further said in his remarks to the members that the much-touted US $ 30 billion export earnings target by 2020 is extremely challenging given the current slowdown in trade both domestically and regionally.
Echoing the same sentiments, Dr. Wignaraja last week said export-led growth has slowed although it has not totally ended.
“My basic take is that, this is not the end of export-led growth for the foreseeable future but certainly the trade has slowed in the region and globally,” he said.