‘Lankan ceramic industry has potential to cater foreign markets’ | Daily News

‘Lankan ceramic industry has potential to cater foreign markets’

Anura Warnakulasooriya
Anura Warnakulasooriya

The Sri Lankan ceramic industry has the potential to cater to both the local and foreign markets if a mechanism existed where local manufacturers are given some incentive to expand with controlled imports.

Speaking to the Daily News Finance, President, Sri Lanka Ceramic and Glass Council (SLCGC), Anura Warnakulasooriya said that however it is impossible to compete in price with mass scale production in countries like China or India where economies of scale drive the costs down. With a small local demand it is not practical in most cases to expand production capacity when imports from other countries can be made cheaper due to heavily discounted seconds and the use of lower quality materials.

The ceramic sectors under the SLCGC are produced in high quality adhering to the highest international standards thus making the cost of labour and energy increase resulting in the increase of manufacturing cost and retail cost.

The sanitary-ware sector has the current capacity to meet about 80% of the local demand which also exports high end ranges. The recent issue faced by the sanitary-ware manufacturers of import restrictions on flushing seats and seat cover was resolved this week as a result of the many meetings had with the relevant government authorities. These flushing-sets and seat covers are not produced locally due to the number of different variation sets needed and the local demand not being high enough to make a manufacturing plant feasible.  Thus the manufacturers had been stuck with an incomplete product.

“We highly appreciate the effort of the relevant governing authorities in resolving this issue,” he said.

Apart from the sanitary-ware sector, the Porcelain Tableware sector and Porcelain / Earthenware floor and wall tiles sector has already been exporting and fulfilling the local demand. The glass bottles and jars sector is also producing for the local and international markets and is engaged in increasing the production capacity further to increase exports and local demand if needed.

 However the Terracotta roof and floor tiles industry, which has the capacity to meet 100% of the local demand and even some exports, needs market confidence to restart slowed down operations and shut down factories. Despite the achievements of the industry, one of the main problems that exist within is the increasing difficulty for raw material suppliers to get the necessary approvals to mine the minerals using world accepted standards due to the lengthy approval process followed.

Sri Lanka is blessed with high quality mineral deposits like Quartz, Feldspar, Silica Sand, Dolomite, Kaolin and Ball clay which are essential for ceramic and glass manufacture. However approval from more than five government authorities is needed to get the license and most mining companies have given up because of the archaic regulations. This has caused the main Kaolin suppliers to wind up mining for Kaolin forcing the ceramic companies to import it. The SLCGC requests the government authorities to streamline this process so that the companies could restart the mining and processing of Kaolin minimizing the unnecessary foreign exchange.

 Warnakulasooriya also said that a huge demand exists within the industry for local designers to showcase their talents and take Sri Lankan designs to the world. “At present most of the designs that we use are from foreign designers,” he said.

Countries like Japan, USA, and Germany have moved ahead from traditionally ceramics into technical and advanced ceramic. Thus Sri Lanka has a long journey ahead where the country is moving forward slowly. There is a high requirement for ceramic engineers, material science graduates and many others in similar new trends to join the industry. However at present most of the experts work overseas, thus proper facilities should be in place within the country to make them join and boost up the local industry. He also said that job opportunities exist for both skilled and unskilled labour within the local ceramic industry.

The Ceramic industry of the country, like most other industries, had gone through some tough months due to the Covid 19 pandemic. The companies that have been engaged in exporting high volumes have seen a decline in orders from overseas clients while the companies engaged in local sales have seen a dramatic drop in sales during the period of lockdown. Warnakulasooriya added that despite this decline they are witnessing better results overall for all companies in the month of July and hope that the upward trend would continue.

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