From left: Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Atul Keshap, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Chairman Samantha Ranatunga, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce CEO Dhara Wijayatilake and Sri Lanka-US Business Council Chairman Samantha Rajapaksa
Pic by Pradeep Pathirana
By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
The Sri Lanka-US Business Council of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce was inaugurated this week amidst an all-time high in the relationship between the two countries.
“This is a promising new beginning but also a moment of continuity of US-Sri Lanka relations. US-Sri Lanka relations are at an all-time high,” US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Atul Keshap said, noting the high-level US delegations that have visited Sri Lanka recently and joint military exercises carried out.
He said that the American people believe in the articulation of the will of the Sri Lankan people through the recent elections and the US will continue to support a democratic and pluralistic Sri Lanka.
However, Keshap did not mention whether Donald Trump—who ran a campaign based on protectionism and bigotry—his transition team or his new cabinet members have communicated their stance towards Sri Lanka or what effects the policies so far announced will have on Sri Lanka.
“Now what we need is for businesses to take advantage of the relations,” he said, though many US government policies may change next month with Trump’s inauguration. Sri Lanka-US Business Council Chairman Samantha Rajapaksa noted that changes in the US policies may occur at a time when Sri Lanka is moving away from a civil war and political uncertainty. “There is a possible trade policy change in the US,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva said that the Sri Lankan government is hoping to negotiate preferential market access into the US, given the all-time high bilateral relations. This is despite Trump’s criticism of the US trade pacts. Recently, Dr. de Silva had noted that the new Sri Lankan government cannot depend on a West-only foreign affairs model and has started giving prominence to Eastern powers as well.
Meanwhile, he said that the government will create a strong platform for exports.
“We will be creating the best platform ever for private sector-led growth,” he added, noting the world-class regulations and global competitiveness is required to bring prosperity to Sri Lankans across the whole island and move the country up the income levels. He noted that the government is committed to treating every Sri Lankan equally. Keshap meanwhile noted that there is a lot of space for the US businesses to partner with Sri Lankan IT companies, which are of high calibre.
He further added that the US has provided humanitarian and developmental aid totalling US $ 2 billion over the past 60 years and that this year’s aid would total US $ 60 million.
The US is Sri Lanka’s largest single market, absorbing 26.7 percent of Sri Lankan exports worth US $ 2.81 billion in 2015, up from US $ 2.73 billion or 24.5 percent of the market share in 2014, with exports mainly being driven through the apparel industry.
The entire European Union accounted for 28.8 percent of Sri Lankan exports last year.
The US was Sri Lanka’s eighth largest supplier, with imports worth US $ 471 million, with a market share of 2.5 percent in 2015, down from US $ 492 million in 2014.