Govt. eyeing to partner with ‘selected’ states of India


NCCL Exco members Bandula Dissanayake, Asela de Livera, Sujeewa Samaraweera,Nandika Buddipala and Thilak Godamanna (NCCSL president) with Deputy Minister Eran Wickramaratne at the Chamber's 57th AGM, last week. (Inset) A section of the business audience - Photographer: Gamini Munasinghe

by Sanath Nanayakkare

The government is considering an idea of entering into trade agreements with selected states of India to effectively deal with concerns relating to non-tariff barriers, Eran Wickramaratne Deputy Minister of Public Enterprise Development said in Colombo last week.

The deputy minister made this comment at the 57th AGM of the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka (NCCSL), held last Wednesday at the Kingsbury, Colombo.

Delivering the keynote he said, "Your chamber president Thilak Godamanna voiced concerns on CEPA and the new Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement being contemplated on with India. You have concerns on trade agreements with India, particularly on non-tariff barriers. We are working to sort out these non-tariff barriers. If not eliminate them, to reduce them. One of the proposals under focus is partnering with selected states of India rather than whole country in order to address the asymmetry of trade".

Speaking further the deputy minister said, "Our future should be linked to the future of India which analysts predict will record a highest growth rate in the world in the next 25 years. Indian prime minister's historic visit to Sri Lanka has opened the door for a closer relationship. We have been so close to India in political and cultural ties, but nevertheless, have been so apart in tapping our economic potential. Having the fastest growing economy next door, are we going to stay apart anymore or are we going to make it work for us? This is a point ponder on".

"67 years ago, our per capita income was only second to that of Japan in the Asian league. Today we are at the bottom of the league as a result of calling the wrong shots in the past. That's why we are where we are".

"We are at a crossroad again and we have to find a new way to steer ahead".

"During the last 10 years, public sector investment accounted for 67% of the GDP. We have to take a departure from it and make the private sector the engine of growth. We will do so not for any dogmatic reasons, but in line with the unfolding economic environment which we can't escape but have to embrace".

"If we want to create a better economic future, we need to understand our hindering structural issues. Too often when trade chambers and government authorities sit down to talk, their discussion is limited to a few topics. They talk about taxes, labour laws or things related to 'doing business'. Unless they begin to focus on real structural issues in the macro picture, the country's economy will keep limping, not growing, in the foreseeable future".

"In terms of making government economic policy, we have to face a somewhat unfavourable global economic environment. Our overseas markets are becoming somewhat stagnant; therefore, the challenges ahead of us are great. We witnessed the rise of Asia rise for 20 years. Our government has taken over at a point of which that growth curve is shifting especially with the slowdown in China. This trend won't change quickly. The adjustment period could take at least 18 months".

"The government has a vision to create widespread land ownership. It will start from giving free-hold land for people living in housing schemes. Even in Colombo, only a small number of people own land in the metropolitan, the majority doesn't own the houses they live in. We need to have radical reform in this critical factor. The move will add 1.5 million new home owners with a net asset to their balance sheet. Through this move, they will have financial access for entrepreneurial startups".

"Only a few biographies have been authored about famous Sri Lankans and they are mostly about politicians. You highlighted today the visionary business leaders who had led the National Chamber of Commerce. They would have had inspiring life stories and a wealth of history on commerce. It's time such uplifting stories were told to our younger generation to capture their imagination for innovation and entrepreneurship by writing and publishing the biographies of those business leaders".

"Industry associations should have broader thinking beyond working to benefit strong industries. They should work to spread the benefits. I recognize your chamber as a voice attempting to do that especially in the fashion your policies are lobbied with the smaller sectors in mind. It is important to remember that ultimately the success of larger organizations depends on the support services of smaller industries".

"The potential of women in our work force goes largely overlooked, so we must think anew to tap it to the full as it will help spur higher economic output. They are underutilized and inefficiently allocated in industry. About 35% of Sri Lankan women are in the workforce. 86% of them are working in the poorest paid industries as circumstances would have it. Local industries are not paying them enough. Women workforce is a resource, an asset which has been ignored, particularly as we are talking about labour shortage. We must find ways to bridge the gap between this asset and its underutilization".

"I leave these thoughts to you. Do we have the right skills training, travelling and working conditions for women to give their best to the country? Clearly, there is a problem in getting women to work places. It's really hard for a woman to travel on public transport and keep her dignity intact. You are virtually travelling face to face. I know this personally as I take the train once a week to travel to my political office in Moratuwa from my office in the World Trade Centre. When the commuters see my white outfit, they squeeze me in anyhow, holding onto their dear life. While travelling, I can do nothing, cannot check email, read a book or take cognizance of the day".

'If we want radical reform in the economy we must have wider inclusion of women in the work force. The government is responsible for making public transport better. The industry can develop flexi working hours and conditions that make women's work-life more pleasant and safe".

"Micro enterprises account for 90% of all entities in Sri Lanka. But they account fora very small portion of the GDP. Take export sector for example, according to research, the sector has 3,027 SMEs, firms with turnover less than Rs. 150 million; registered exporters who collectively produce less than 5% of Sri Lanka's exports. It's sad to say we have the export structure of a low-income country even though we are considered as a middle income country. If you contrast this with China, Chinese SMEs contribute 40% of the GDP. In countries such as Vietnam, small businesses have been rightly connected to the domestic and international value chain".

"Recently I was chief guest at a handicraft exhibition organized by two ladies. Their exhibits were of the finest quality, but the possibility of exporting wasn't on their mind because they didn't know how to connect the points on the global business map. It's open for you to think how your industries can help micro businesses to link up and reap mutual economic benefit in synergy", the deputy minister suggested to the large business audience present at the occasion.

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