The Government is forging ahead with a ‘Look East’ strategy to boost Sri Lanka’s exports, whilst sustaining traditional markets. Addressing the Sri Lanka-Singapore Business Forum organised by Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC), Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama tipped that the Government would soon sign comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with India and China to leverage on Sri Lanka’s location and expand market access.
Asserting that the Singapore-Sri Lanka FTA was part of a broader strategy of the Government looking East to renew trade relationships, he said this FTA was the first agreement inked with a South East Asian country. “This agreement is an important part of the new National Trade Policy launched last year and is a linchpin in the ongoing trade policy reforms. We envisage this as a first step towards closer integration with ASEAN, and potentially be part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in the future,” he added.
RCEP is a proposed FTA between the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the six states with which ASEAN has existing Free Trade Agreements (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand).
He said signing the FTA with Singapore, a country regarded as one of the most open and liberalised economies boasting high-quality institutions, was an important milestone for Sri Lanka. “This signals the commitment of our Government to usher in an era of openness for Sri Lanka and become a formidable economic hub in the Indian Ocean,” he emphasised. He said the focus of the Government was to shift the economic growth model from one that was heavily dependent on debt-fuelled public infrastructure spending to growth-driven private enterprises, exports, and Foreign Direct Investment (FDIs).
To complement seamless trade facilitation, he assured that the Government was committed to domestic reforms to make Sri Lanka internationally competitive.
“We are working closely with International Enterprise Singapore to help forge bilateral investment linkages. Moreover, International Enterprise Singapore and the Temasek Foundation are working with our Export Development Board (EDB) to benchmark good practices and impart valuable lessons on how to enhance our services to exporters,” he added.
Highlighting the new Logistics and Industrial Zone in Hambantota which is being developed with Chinese investment, he said three other industrial zones were also being setup and one of them was in partnership with Rojana Corporation of Thailand. “We expect a lot of investor interest in these. We invite Singaporean firms to invest in these zones and to do business to access the South Asian region and beyond. It is now an opportune time to take our partnership to new heights,” he stressed
The Minister told the investors from Singapore that Sri Lanka had GSP+ trade concessions to the European Union (EU) as well as the ongoing trade and investment framework agreement with the United States and Australia, from which they could benefit by investing here.
On the exports front, he said the Government would launch the National Export Strategy (NES) next month with a focus on competitiveness and diversification.
“The aim is to build more export brands from Sri Lanka, ranging from high value and high quality food and beverages, leisure boats, IT services, and electronic components,” Samarawickrama said.
Further the Minister stated a new national Innovation and Entrepreneurship Strategy would be launched soon, which would have programs to support technology upgrading, startups and collaborative innovation.
Samarawickrama acknowledged that the Government was fully aware that without a focus on these areas Sri Lanka could not go from middle income to high income, like what Singapore managed to do.