By Zahara Zuhair
Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama said he is confident that with the measures they have introduced, Sri Lanka is ready to face even the worst challenges of tomorrow and give the opportunity for businesses to have a level playing field in the global market.
“The external environment in which you have to do business today is extremely volatile. Many economies that we are trading with are either slowing down or are pursuing policy reforms, which are affecting the demand and competitiveness of products that are being exported by Sri Lanka. Even the emerging markets that we are trying to diversify are either slowing down or static, given the weakening global economy,” he said at the 20th Presidential Export Awards ceremony, held at the BMICH this week.
Outlining a few measures of the government’s economic reform agenda, he said that they are looking at framing trade and investment policies and are in the process of implementing a series of reforms to uplift the country’s trade and investment performance, which includes ‘ease of doing business’.
“A new trade policy framework is being formulated, which focuses on reducing the anti-export bias in our policies,” he said.
However, he said that while the internal reforms are undertaken, it is important to simultaneously look to integrate with the rest of the world to connect and compete to achieve wider market access.
He said that the export growth can no longer depend on the traditional export markets such as the USA and the EU, where demand is slack. Therefore, he said that it is imperative that Sri Lanka find new markets and carve out preferential market access
“That is why the government has embarked on a strategy to deepen the existing free trade agreements (FTAs) with growing Asian economies like China and Singapore,”
Pointing out that Sri Lanka is far behind others in working out duty-free or preferential market access to other countries, compared to other Asian countries, he said that Sri Lanka also lags behind even with its South Asian neighbours in having preferential access to its trading partners, as he stressed the importance of signing more trade agreements.
Meanwhile, talking about the Economic and Technology Corporation Agreement (ETCA) with India, he said that it can increase Sri Lanka’s competitiveness in industrial exports and also increase the supply capacity to better utilise the market access to India.
“In addition, the ETCA negotiations are addressing outstanding non-tariff barriers as well as many of the existing procedural barriers and delays in Indian ports of entry,” he said.
He said that the intention is to deepen the current agreement in trading goods by reducing the negative list on the basis of less than full reciprocity and widen it to include services, investment, technology
“This will clearly open new opportunities for local and foreign investors to locate in Sri Lanka to access the markets of the fastest growing economy in the works on a preferential basis,” he said.
He said that they are also negotiating a new FTA with China, focusing on apparel, tea, gems and jewellery, rubber products, coconut and spices as key industries and invigorating the existing FTA with Pakistan.
In addition to that, he said that possible FTAs with South Korea and Malaysia are in the pipeline.
He further said that with Brexit, they will be working on a separate agreement with the UK, which is a destination for about 10 percent of the country’s exports, and also will be initiating a five-year programme to boost trade and investment with the USA.