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From left: Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, EDB Chairman Bandula Egodage (Deputy Exec Director Hong Kong’s HKTDC), Kenichi Suganuma (HE Japanese Ambassador to Sri Lanka), Parliamentarian of ruling government Eran Wickremeratne, Hiroyuki Ishige (Chairman & CEO-JETRO Japan), and Parliamentarian of ruling government Harsha De Silva at the launch of 28th ATPF in Colombo on 24 August

Advancing further on its market diversification efforts on Asia, Sri Lanka’s apex exports body EDB broke fresh grounds on 24 August when it successfully inked three Asian cooperation pacts in one go on 24 August in Colombo. “Today you are taking part in this important forum at a time when trade promotion and exports are placed right at the centre of Sri Lanka’s major economic reform efforts of the new consensual government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

As a recent entrant to the lower middle income ranks, Sri Lanka’s next stage of economic development as envisioned by the new government is based on the social market economic model,” said Minister Rishad Bathiudeen on 24 August in Colombo.

Minister Bathiudeen was addressing the local and international participants of the inauguration event of the 28th CEO meeting of the Asian Trade Promotion Forum (ATPF) held in Colombo – also the first ATPF session to take place in Sri Lanka- on the eve of 24 August at Taj Samudra Hotel, Colombo.

More than 40 Asian trade promotion CEOs, top officials from 19 Asian countries as well as reps from Geneva’s International Trade Centre are taking part in the Colombo sessions pioneered by EDB in partnership of HSBC. Hiroyuki Ishige (Chairman and CEO-JETRO Japan) has specially flown to Colombo to attend this event.

On 24 August eve, in the presence of Minister Bathiudeen, EDB signed three MoUs with 3 Asian Trade Promotion Organizations – that is, SLEDB-Hong Kong’s HKTDC, SLEDB-Korea’s KOTRA and SLEDB-Thailand’s DITP. EDBs three ground-breaking trade promotion MoUs are organization to organization rather than country to country and are crafted in such a way that they do not affect existing international obligations, national business interests or laws and regulations. The specially designed logo for the Colombo CEOs meeting was also launched by Minister Bathiudeen on 24 August.

The three MoUs have almost the same outlook and promote cooperation between companies, economic and trade institutions of both countries, sharing of information on important economic, trade and legal issues, provision of information on business opportunities and related regulations, exchanging trade missions between representatives of relevant industries, conducting business matchmaking (B2B) and supporting trade, industrial fairs, business seminars, forums, and conferences for the partnering TPO. What is interesting to note is that in each of these MoUs there are no financial commitments expected from either end.

“Today you are taking part in this important forum at a time when trade promotion and exports are placed right at the centre of Sri Lanka’s major economic reform efforts of the new consensual government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. As a recent entrant to the lower middle income ranks, Sri Lanka’s next stage of economic development as envisioned by the new government is based on the social market economic model.

Our new government’s ambitious plan to create one million jobs is based on strengthening exports and “getting more producers and associations directly involved in the process.” It will take advantage of the upcoming GSP plus tariff concessions from EU and more importantly “digitizing” the economy and plans fresh trade and investment agreements with India China USA Singapore East Asia and SAARC countries to promote trade.

The creation of 45 economic development zones, 11 industrial and technical zones, 2 tourism zones, 23 agricultural zones, 10 fisheries development zones and 2500 market-centred cluster villages are some of the initiatives to achieve this. We all understand as to how important are supply chains to our economic growth. At the same time we need to formulate strategies to shorten supply chains as well.

The EDB too facilitates supply chain efficiencies. As we diversify our exports basket even further the EDB is also taking initiatives in this regard. As you may know SMEs are the starting point of exports’ supply chain. In October 2014 with the support of Sri Lanka Ports Authority EDB began identifying entrepôts and freeport development possibilities in the country. We also realize that these ports could be attached with various economic development zones proposed by the five pillar concept of our new government.

I am pleased to say that our trans-shipment capacities have been strengthened. The Port of Colombo has reported a 15% year-on-year increase in its trans-shipments. The average number of containers handled per ship per hour in Colombo port is 25 closely behind Singapore which is 30. Our export cost per 40 foot container is a competitive 579 dollars. Import cost for the same sized container is 662 dollars.

Our government’s proposed economic reforms could use these capacities to enhance trade promotion further.”

Newly elected ruling party Parliamentarian Harsha De Silva said: “Every country is trying to increase exports for same strong markets such as China. Some countries are trying to devaluate its currency for exports competitiveness. This may not be good strategy for countries like Sri Lanka to follow. If American interest rates start to up what will happen to FDI and investment flows to Sri Lanka? Therefore we need to think carefully before any
currency devaluation.”

“Our immediate strategic objective is to develop bilateral trade specially our exports” said Bandula Egodage (Chairman and CEO-EDB) addressing the event, and added: “Product and market diversification, value addition and adoption of high tech are the key approached of EDB to enhance Lankan exports. But are these enough? We realized that it is not. We think more trade promotion MoUs and cooperation are needed as well for us to expand trade. Today’s pioneering effort is the result of this.”
According to Geneva’s International Trade Centre, ATPF is a world’s leading regional TPO grouping ranking along with Red Ibero-Americana (Spanish-American TPO network), the Groupement Européen pour la Promotion du Commerce International (GEPCI, the European Grouping for International Trade Promotion).

The technical sessions of 28th ATPF that began on the morning of 25 August are scheduled to conclude on 26 August.

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