The Seychelles invited Sri Lanka t o use t heir country as a platform to dive into the virtually untapped African continent with trade and investment, at the Seychelles Trade and Investment Forum held yesterday.
“We command a strategic location i n Eastern Africa, South of India and the Gulf countries and the Seychelles is very accessible with a stable economy to attract investors,” Finance, Trade and Investment Minister Pierre Laporte said.
The minister enthusiastically expressed Sri Lanka’s potential use of the Seychelles as a stepping stone into the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), where 19 African nations enjoy a free trade zone.
Meanwhile, Industry and Commerce Minister Rishard Bathiudeen asked the Seychelles to make use of the free trade agreements Sri Lanka enjoys with India and Pakistan to enter into the South Asian market.
“There are many avenues. This is mainly a gateway of synergies for the two countries. Sri Lanka is the hub with which the Seychelles can access the 1.5 billion South Asians,” he said. According to Bathiudeen, bilateral trade between the countries stood at a very low US $ 3.7 million last year, with the main exports from Sri Lanka being tea, fishing vessels, sausages, while importing certain in return.
“In the future, Sri Lanka believes that gems and jewellery, furniture, other types of ocean vessels, seafood and plastic products, to have strong market potential in the Seychelles,” he further noted.Both parties agreed that the countries being islands have similarities in socio-cultural and economic trends and challenges, while going through transport, ICT and inclusive growth revolutions. Laporte believes the Seychelles would have much expertise to gain in the education, health, maritime services, legal drafting, aviation and defence fields. Meanwhile, Exports Development Board Chairman and CEO Bandula Egodage said there is a need for commercial diplomacy. There is no memorandum of understanding on trade or investment yet existing between the two countries, while the plans to do so may not be realized immediately, according to a top governmental official.
“There needs to be bilateral trade between the countries, information on trade opportunities and more importantly, networking opportunities, because the world is built on networking,” Egodage expressed the need to do so. Abundant investment and trade potential in the tourism, medical, maritime services and education areas exist between Sri Lanka and the Seychelles, with Nawaloka Hospitals PLC and Sanken Overseas (Seychelles) Ltd already taking the first plunge.