‘Export diversification crucial for growth’ | Daily News


‘Export diversification crucial for growth’

Palitha Kohona
Palitha Kohona

Sri Lanka’ economy has long been dependent on the exports of garments, traditional products and labor and it is time that Sri Lanka move away from this and look at new areas of export, said Sri Lankan diplomat and former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, Palitha T. B. Kohona.

In an interview with Daily News he said that it was pleasing to note the shift towards ICT exports and this is a step taken in the right direction. Under the new government’s series of concessions and tax incentives are offered and I think entrepreneurs should look at new products to broad base Sri Lankan export basket.”

The new administration of President Gotabaya Rajapaka has a declared policy of revamping Sri Lanka’s overseas service to better meet the needs of the country. The country needs an overseas service which responds more proactively to the needs of its exporters’, tourism and investment requirements.

“Diplomacy is no longer limited to maintaining and advancing international political relations. This era of gentle diplomacy is well behind us. Diplomats, who are trained and posted overseas at great expense to the country, must play a proactive role in promoting bilateral trade, investments and tourism. It is also a job for those with trained and well honed skills.”

Kohona said that the government should encourage Sri Lankan diplomatic missions and trade representatives to explore new Sri Lankan products that could be exported to suit overseas markets.

In other countries diplomats are provided training in promoting trade, investments and tourism, in addition to their traditional responsibilities. “Their career advancement could depend on how well they perform in all these expanded roles. Diplomats are also required to actively promote exports of goods and services.”

“Sri Lanka diplomats overseas should take on this additional and proactive role and successful diplomats who bring in tangible incentives should be rewarded.”

Kohona who is also the Managing Director, Hairong Investments International Pvt Ltd, Sri Lanka, emphasized that Sri Lanka can gain more from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) if the Lankan authorities could effectively carry out the negotiations with Chinese counterparts as Sri Lanka is located in the middle of the Indian Ocean and BRI in route.

He said, through BRI China would invest over US$ 6 trillion in infrastructure development mainly in Asian and African regions and Sri Lanka should carefully negotiate with China. Kohona’s company Hairong is into promoting local business and investment opportunities.

China sends out 137 million tourists annually but Sri Lank, with all its advantages, receives only about a minuscule 250,000 and this should be corrected.

“Even countries like Australia and France have instituted special campaigns to attract Chinese tourists, including providing language training to locals and Sri Lanka too should follow suit.”  The famed department store, Galleries Lafayette of Paris, now opens on some Sundays, specifically to cater to Chinese tourists while the third Language used at the Charles de Gaulle airport is Chinese.

Some of the International agreements with India, Pakistan and Singapore and others in the process of being negotiated have come under criticism, for legitimate reasons. “Some agreements require revisiting.”

Negotiation of any new international agreement must have as its bottom line the protection of the national interests and not political expediency or personal benefit.

China has been unreservedly supportive of Sri Lanka both during our internal terrorist inspired conflict and subsequently, as we sought to fast track our development.

“The opportunities for further developing the economic relationship with China would seem to be limitless. Japan comes next followed by ASEAN and India. China, Japan, India, South Korea and Indonesia are expected to be among the top ten economies of the world by 2030.”

Sri Lanka can only benefit if it proactively develops closer trade, investment and people to people relations with these booming economies. Language barriers are no longer an excuse as many bright young Sri Lankans have studied in these countries.

“We also need to ensure that Sri Lanka plays responsible role in ensuring that the sea lanes caressing our shores are kept secure. Over 60% of East Asia’s energy needs float past within 20 miles of Sri Lanka. If this route is not secure, it could become a problem for East Asia.”

Furthermore, Sri Lanka also needs to safeguard its own Exclusive Economic Zone and the potentially valuable continental shelf. The national claim to the continental shelf was lodged with the UN as far back as 2009. In addition, terrorism is a major threat to the region and we need to play a proactive role, along with our neighbors, to ensure international terrorism is controlled and eliminated at some point.”

“We also must be proactive in addressing the threat of climate change with the international community.”

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