- Exporters request govt. let them operate at least with limited workforce
- Want export industries to be declared as an essential service
- Warn if not repercussions to the country’s economy would be severe
By Nishel Fernando
Sri Lanka’s exporters are urging the government to allow export industries to operate at least with limited workforce by declaring it as an essential service to remain unaffected by the island-wide curfew imposed to prevent the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country.
As the island-wide curfew came into effect from last Friday, exporters noted that much of the export activities have come into a grinding halt.
“We are lobbying the government to make the export industry some kind of an essential service, to allow a limited number of people to work under required hygienic conditions to at least do a part of our work. If not repercussions will be severe, both immediate and future orders will be affected,” Colombo Tea Traders’ Association (CTTA) Chairman Jayantha Karunaratne told Mirror Business.
The tea sector still remains largely unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic compared to other key foreign exchange earners such as remittances, tourism and apparel exports.
However, both local and international logistic barriers are adversely impacting tea exports.
“In a lot of countries the people are staying at home, hence they tend to consume more tea. However, the problem is logistics, the systems are not in place for consumers to purchase tea regularly at the moment,” he noted.
During the Colombo Tea Auction held last week, tea prices appreciated for most teas except for the high-grown teas. The next tea auction, which was scheduled for this week was postponed to March 30 amid the island-wide curfew.
Meanwhile, Karunaratne, who is also an ex-Chairman of the Tea Exporters Association (TEA) warned that daily wage earners in the export industry in particular remain vulnerable due to the island-wide curfew as they are unable to work.
The island-wide curfew has also slowed down activities at tea plantations across the country.
“There are only a limited number of estates operational at the moment. Some estates are operating with the consent of the police and some have not received this consent,” according to an industry source.
The exporters also pointed out that the movement of bulk tea to manufacturing facilities for packaging purposes has also become challenging at the moment due to travel restrictions.
Further, the industry is also likely to face a labour shortage with large portion of their employees leaving for their respective hometowns after the announcement of the island wide curfew last Friday for an extended Sinhala and Tamil New Year holidays.
“Many have gone back to their hometowns; we only have a limited number of people available for work. Some say that they will only come back after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year,” Karunaratne said.
Meanwhile, analysts expect the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in lower oil prices, would slowdown future demand for Ceylon Tea in key markets such as Russia and Middle East in the coming months.