“Our labour force should step up and needs exposure to a higher level of skills if Sri Lanka is serious about seizing maximum advantage of the ‘One Belt-One Road’ (OBOR) initiative” expressed Sunshine Holding’s Group Managing Director, Vish Govindasamy, speaking at the ‘Belt and Road initiative – transformative opportunity for Sri Lanka’ panel at the recently concluded Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka Economic Summit 2017.
Perhaps the largest single overseas investment drive by China, OBOR was discussed and deliberated by an eminent panel also comprising Dr. Amitendu Palit, Senior Research Fellow and Research Lead of Trade and Economic Policy, National University of Singapore, Dr. Wen Zha, Associate Professor of China Foreign Affairs University, Ambassador Nihal Rodrigo, Former Sri Lankan Ambassador to China and the UN, and Jim McCabe, Chief Executive Officer of the Standard Chartered Bank, with Dr. Ganeshan Wignaraja, Chair of Global Economy Program at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute as moderator.
Proposed by China in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, aimed at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes. OBOR will connect 65 countries, including Sri Lanka, with the session discussing advantages to both the world and Sri Lanka, the potential weaknesses involved, and the opportunity for Sri Lanka to be part of the larger global economic leadership and commerce.
Replying to the question of whether Sri Lankan labour could match the productivity of Chinese labour, Govindasamy said, “I don’t think there is a need to match their capabilities. However, the Sri Lankan government and the business community need to step up and double their efforts to increase skills and key competencies of our local labour force and equip them with the right talent and attitude to harness opportunities out of China’s ambitious plan of OBOR. More work needs to be done from both sides to elevate the level of skills require to work with Chinese business entities.”
Asked if Sri Lanka is ready to be a part of OBOR, Govindasamy added “OBOR can be transformational for us if we allow it. FTA’s between Sri Lanka and China need to be understood in totality and Sri Lanka needs to be prepared – whether its sending economists who understand the language over to China to comprehend the enormity of the potential and intra-regional trade opportunities, initiate Public, Private Partnerships, to build our logistics capacity – whatever it is , we need to double up our efforts or lose out on the 8 trillion USD platform that OBOR is offering.
“It’s like a bullet train that’s coming our way and we are on a steam engine track”.
On working with Chinese businesses, Govindasamy said, “I think it is a learning curve for Sri Lanka to understand and build solid relationships with China. Doing business with China is no different to other businesses in other parts of the world, however when it comes to industrial sector, speed is a necessity. They need to know answers quickly, and so Sri Lanka should enhance our competencies to be able to respond quickly within a given time. It is about learning, trusting and understanding their culture and it is really important for us to do business with China.”