By Yohan Perera
While highlighting Sri Lanka’s existing export markets in the West and in Europe are shrinking as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday said Sri Lanka should focus on Asian markets.
Mr. Wickremesinghe made this remark in a webinar organized by Indian media organisation, Sphere Travel Media which discussed the impact COVID-19 would have on the Asian region.
Describing the COVID-19 pandemic as a power shift, Mr. Wickremesinghe went on to say that the economic power of the world was shifting from the traditional Western powers to the emerging Asian markets.
“We have seen a decline in demand for our exports in Europe and the US, the pandemic is forcing us to turn our attention to Asia. If we do so we can create a new global market-place that will benefit all Asian countries.” he added.
Highlighting the Bay of Bengal as a key area of focus for post COVID-19 recovery, Mr. Wickremesinghe stressed the need for exploring regional tourism.
Citing the Caribbean tours as an example, he questioned as to why a similar model could not be adopted in the Bay of Bengal servicing many South-Asian nations including Sri Lanka.
He elaborated that with the emerging markets having debt in excess of US $3.2 trillion awaiting repayment this year, the demand for commercial loans will see countries such as Sri Lanka face higher interest rates. “Along with the debt servicing due, the countries in South Asia will also be forced to increase their expenditure in health care, forcing them to seek out alternative forms of revenue.
Faced with a bleak financial future, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan must pursue the path of a market economy.” he said.
Explaining the burden of financial recovery would be too great for the State alone to handle, the protection and promotion of the private sector was essential.
Speaking on the importance of Ease of Doing Business, the former Prime Minister explained that unless governments step forward with measures that would encourage the growth of the private sector the economic recovery in Asia would take many years.
He stressed that tax concessions alone would not be an attraction for new businesses, urging the government to ensure a comprehensive system of Ease of Doing Business was introduced in the country. “Our scale of private sector businesses in Asia are much smaller than that seen in the US or Europe, not only must we promote new businesses, but we must also protect the existing businesses from going bankrupt”, he said.
- Along with the debt servicing due, the countries in South Asia will also be forced to increase their expenditure in health care