Sri Lanka’s apex platform to solve exporters’ issues, the Exporters’ Forum, wrapped its seventh session successfully recently with a significant change to the ongoing interaction process; the Lankan exporters may no longer need to agonise till the next forum announcement to find solutions.
“You don’t have to wait for this once in three months forum but you can now contact us anytime. As we move towards the one-stop shop solutions, the Export Development Board (EDB) will be restructured and will be made as attractive as possible to exporters,” stated International Trade State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe.
Senasinghe was addressing the seventh Exporters’ Forum facilitated by the country’s apex export facilitator - the EDB - and held at NDB-EDB Towers, Colombo.
The forum focused on 52 export-related critical issues involving 29 firms including Alpex Aqua, Cargills Quality Foods, Multichemi Exports Ltd, Ravi Industries, Samson International, and ACL Cables.
Reps from such line ministries and agencies as the BoI, Central Bank, GSMB, Customs, Excise Department, Sri Lankan Air Force, MRI, LRC, CEB, CDA, CRI and Development Strategies and International Trade, Finance, Plantations, Agriculture, Planning, Health Ministries and even chambers such as the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and associations such as the Ceramics and Glass Council, Wood Based Industries, Association of Manufacturers and Exporters of Rubber Products, etc., were present to help promptly resolve the issues presented.
Many such exporter concerns, specially VAT refund issues and permission issues were resolved on the spot at this session.
“Our exports have come down from world’s gross domestic product (GDP) share from 0.9 percent from 10 years ago to 0.6 percent and in local GDP from 34 percent to 14 percent, so we need to think anew. We are planning to revive our exports manufacturing. This is the Asian century. Countries such as Korea, Japan revived their economies with the help of a few major companies.
Neither Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe nor we have any hidden agendas. Our aim is to make the exporters as comfortable as possible, provide you with service, take away the red tape and for us to help us as much as possible.
In this Asian century, countries around us developed a lot - Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, etc. Budget 2016 is an export-oriented Budget. The export sector is around US $ 11 billion and in five years’ time we are aiming at US $ 35 billion and if we get our act right, we can go up to US $ 50 billion.
Branding, new technology, thinking in new directions are the ways we can achieve what other developed countries achieved,” said Senasinghe
He added, “We have a great deal to achieve. At the start, it is rustic and won’t be easy for us. We have borrowed at 6.9 percent average dollar rate in the past few years for the state’s investments and have to pay Rs.1200 million annually for loan repayments. We have certain state investments such as Hambantota Port and Mattala Airport with no benefits. We have to carry all these burdens. This is not said as an excuse but this is the situation.”
EDB Chairperson and CEO Indira Malwatte said, “We are trying to revive the Exporters’ Forum to make it more meaningful. Though exports plunged, our exporters still kept us going. Even our Ease of Doing Business Index ranking has plummeted. If we can improve these indices, we may not need this type of a forum.” Several exporters who were at the session welcomed Senasinghe’s new strategy of being ‘online’ and any time support for them. “We welcome Minister Senasinghe’s idea of relevant institutions being always available to help us,” said a participant who wished anonymity. “This could be an important change,” he added.