By Zahara Zuhair
Stressing the need for reducing the barriers imposed on trade in order to exploit the county’s potential, Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva proclaimed that Sri Lanka has become one of the most protectionist countries in the world for the number of complicated import duties the country has.
“We have set a world record. We have to rethink of the protectionist policies we are following right now,” he said delivering the keynote speech at the 32nd Annual General Meeting of The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) held recently in Colombo.
Dr. de Silva showed that though Sri Lanka was the first in South Asia to unilaterally open its economy in 1978, since late 90s, the economic liberalization process had been in reverse.
While claiming that some of the protectionist barriers would come down under his government, he said in order to put the country in the right track, Sri Lanka needed to engage more in regional trade.
“How much trade has happened in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries (with Sri Lanka),” he asked.
Meanwhile, Dr. de Silva stressed that imports are also an integral part of trade and liberalization of the economy.
“Imports are required for exports. Particularly in countries like ours. If you are talking about logistics, adding value to the kind of business you do, you can’t just export; import is also the other side of the same coin.
The whole issue is the attitude and thinking that imports are bad and we must only export. This is where things started to go wrong,” he said.
Dr. de Silva said that free trade has become a dirty word now in Sri Lanka, though many other countries who had the same problem had moved on.
He noted that Sri Lanka had remained where it is and other countries have flourished.
“Imports are not necessarily for consumption; importing is also done for the purpose of exporting. So if we don’t import to export, then we will lose out in the competition, because the competition is looking at how we are facilitating greater amounts of trade,” he said.