Sri Lanka’s major annual business summit, Sri Lanka Economic Summit 2015 organized by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce concluded on Wednesday following two-days of brainstorming sessions also participated by President Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The forum had eight sessions on areas such as National Vision: Policy Implementation and Perspective, A New Global Economic Strategy for Sri Lanka, Driving Exports – Use of Social Media and Technology, Challenges In and Opportunities for Financing of Exports, Championing Value Addition in Agri Exports, Sustainability Led Export Growth, Going up the Value Chain – Export of Knowledge Services.

Addressing the summit on Wednesday, President Maithripala Sirisena assured business leaders and professionals that Sri Lanka’s government will not interfere in private business and will build friendly relations with all countries to help boost trade and investments.

“The state sector and private sector have to work together in trust and transparency. The government will not interfere in business. Businesses will be guaranteed their freedom,” President Sirisena told the Summit themed ‘Towards exports of US$ 50 billion’.

He said that although there had been instances of interference in business before his administration took effect before January 08, the new administration had rebalanced relations with the rest of the world so that relations have been strengthened.

Addressing the Summit on the inaugural session on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that Sri Lanka has to move to the next generation of reforms, liberalizing factor and product markets and also reduce state controls and approvals that hold back entrepreneurs.

“Firstly there has to be a change in the mind-set of the private sector. From crony capitalism are we going to the next generation of reforms?,” Prime Minister Wickremesinghe questioned.

Noting that Sri Lanka needs to get into the next generation of reforms in factor markets, Wickremesinghe thus suggested that domestic labour and land markets had to be freed.

He also added that the Western Province should be made into a ‘megapolis’ of eight million people as all Asian countries had a history of growing with large cities.

Meanwhile, responding to a question on recent appointments of directors to private banks by the new administration which created controversy, Deputy Economic Policy Minister Dr. Harsha De Silva said that the era of stuffing of political appointees to private banks using voting rights of stocks bought by state-controlled funds will end if independent wealth management trusts are set up.

The United National Party is proposing independent trusts to manage Sri Lanka’s Employees Provident Fund and Employees Trust Fund, where trustees will be appointed by a proposed constitutional council if they come to power after August polls.

The constitutional council, which will appoint a series of independent commissions is also expected to free the entire public service from political interference, hopefully recreating conditions that existed when a civil service commission appointed permanent secretaries to ministries according to analysts.

Also speaking at the Summit, Deputy Minister of Highways & Investment Promotion Eran Wickremaratne said Sri Lanka’s government will help develop new export finance instruments as part of an initiative to rapidly raise export earnings to 50 billion US dollars,

Two major problems faced by the island was the falling share of exports in economic output and the low participation of small and medium enterprises, he said.

“Our exports’ share of world trade and of gross domestic product has come down,” Wickremaratne said. “So we really have a big problem on our hands and we need to try to see how we are going to reverse it.”

“Exporters need new export finance instruments to help them increase exports, and diversify their products and markets. The government was ready to support export financing where necessary, Wickremaratne added
“The number of instruments we have in our market is very, very few. In the local market there’s factoring and buyers’ credit. But export markets don’t have them…Credit lines are generally used by banks but it’s necessary to create credit lines to promote exports. We have to have a focus like in other countries,” Wickremaratne said.

He noted that the country needed bold exporters willing to take higher risks and provide them with more instruments to manage the risks.

“The government is also looking at creating an ‘Exim’ (export-import) bank as in other countries as well as improving existing export credit guarantee and insurance schemes, Wickremaratne disclosed adding that the move would need a capital outlay of about US$ 150 million.

“An Exim Bank could be jointly owned by the private sector and government but with a very specific focus. They must want to see exporters succeed,” he said.

Pics by Ravindra Dharmathilake

President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe addressing the summit
President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe addressing the summit

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