Special Zone for production of medicinal drugs to be established


by Zacki Jabbar
recently in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland

At the World Economic Forum Opening Ceremony : From Right, Professor Maithree Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheik Hasina. At extreme left are the Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan.

With the establishment of a Special Zone to manufacture quality drugs at affordable prices in the pipeline, the government is scheduled to pursue negotiations with Novartis, a global healthcare company based in Basel, Switzerland.

Novartis , with a 150-year history and a global supply chain that reaches one billion people in 155 countries, focuses on innovative patented medicines, generics and eye care devices.

Initial talks in this regard, between the Head of Global Public and Government Affairs at Novartis, Dr. Petra Laux and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were held on the sidelines of the 47th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) held in Davos-Klosters Switzerland recently.

Dr. Laux said that it was convenient and cheaper to manufacture quality basic drugs locally, while the more complex ones could be produced internationally for the Sri Lankan market.

The Prime Minister revealed that the government was committed to producing a range of pharmaceuticals locally, for which a Special Zone would be established.

Informed sources said that follow up meetings with Norvotis, would be led by Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema and Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne, who had in the recent past implemented several measures to provide affordable health care.

Other international drug manufacturing companies interested in investing in Sri Lanka, are also expected to participate in the discussions.

During the Annual Meeting, a country profile on Sri Lanka created by WEF, was presented on wide screen at a special session to the delegation led by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and clarifications sought on investment opportunities, including some reports on the recent protests organised by the Sri Lanka Peoples Front, against the proposed Chinese funded Hambantota Industrial Zone(HIZ).

Wickremesinghe in reply said that some information on the demonstrations obtained by WEF, were based on exaggerated reports filed by certain journalists and did not convey the exact position.

Pointing out that protests were part of the democratic tradition,he observed that disinformation had led to the belief that the HIZ was inimical to Sri Lanka's interests,but that was not so, since China had pledged to attract investments totaling USD 5 billion within the next five years, which would also result in over a 100,000 jobs being created.

Wickremesinghe informed WEF that the relevant Ministries will be available and ready to provide any further information and clarifications that would be investors required.He, also held talks with the Executive Chairman of WEF, Klaus Schwab.

A record 3000 participants from 100 countries, including Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers , government and business leaders,civil society members and journalists attended WEF. It was also the first time a Chinese leader participated at its Annual Meeting, with President Xi Jinping who delivered the inaugural address, leading the largest number of Ministers and officials from his country.

The Sri Lankan delegation included Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema ,Minister of Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure Harin Fernando, Professor Maithree Wickremesinghe, Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva and Consul General to Switzerland Ravinath Ariyasinha, Secretary Saman Ekanayake, Additional Secretary Saman Athaudahetti and Personal Assistant Sandra Perera.

Minister Fernando speaking to the "Island Financial Financial Review" on the sidelines of the Forum after meeting Microsoft Chairman Jean Philippe Courtois said that a two-day international digital summit would be held in Colombo on March 23 and 24, with the participation of experts and executives of companies such as Facebook, Google, Social Capital and Infosys.

The objective of the Summit, he noted was to make Sri Lanka a global digital hub by introducing the latest innovation and technologies to attract the next generation of new technology pioneers.

Fernando said that Courtois had assured his companies support to develop computer literacy in Sri Lanka and also speed up digitalisation." The Microsoft Chief emphasised on the importance of creating a paperless working environment and urged us to implement measures to make it a reality."

The Prime Minister informed Courtis that Sri Lanka was in the process of opening up to three of the world’s four biggest markets and urged investors to identify projects they were interested in.

Minister Samarawickrema called on the diaspora, to take advantage of the investment opportunities that were opening up throughout the country.

Klaus Schwab said that responsive and responsible leadership had to include humanisation over robotisation." It is important to prioritise the public good over ones own interests. We must emphasise humanisation over robotisation."

Convening under the theme" Responsive and Responsible Leadership", WEF focused on critical leadership challenges, strengthening global collaboration, revitalizing economic growth, reforming capitalism, preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and restoring a sense of shared identity.

Responsive meant leaders needed to listen and interact with those who had entrusted them with leadership and that it was also important to have values to show the direction,Schwab noted."Sometimes it seems that the world is overwhelmed by pessimism and cynicism. But ,we have to look in a confident way into the future."

The 47th Annual Meeting opened with the 23rd Crystal Awards, which celebrated the achievements of leading artists who are bridge builders and role models for society leaders.

The recipients were violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter for her leadership in providing opportunities for young people to develop careers as musicians.Singer/Songwriter Shakira for her leadership in supporting early childhood development and artist and social activist Forest Whitaker for his leadership in peace-building and conflict resolution.

Minister Karunanayake who met China’s E-commerce magnate Jack Ma on the sidelines of WEF, said that the billionaire businessman had described Sri Lanka as a good investment opportunity. "He was impressed by the rapid improvement of our economy and expressed interest in immediately getting involved in Sri Lanka.Such a move would generate employment in large numbers."

Jack Ma in his address to WEF, said that his network could create a lot of jobs worldwide. He is the first mainland Chinese entrepreneur to appear on the cover of Forbes Magazine. The real time net worth of Alibaba has risen from USD 21.8 billion in October 2015, to a current figure of USD 27.7 billion.

Business transactions in excess of USD 463 billion were conducted on Alibaba’s retail platforms last year. It has set a goal of creating 10 million profitable businesses and 100 million jobs in the next 20 years.

Beyond e-commerce, in October 2016, Alibaba’s film unit forged an alliance with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners.

During talks between Premier Wickremesinghe and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) President Jin Liqun also on the sidelines of WEF, Liqun agreed to assist the governments "Powerful Sri Lanka" development drive.It includes the construction of, roads, highways, ports and city development.

The AIIB President having assessed the outline of the proposed projects mentioned by Wickremesinghe, said that his Bank would provide loans and grants on reasonable terms, after having gone into the specifics.

The Prime Minister thanked the AIIB for the assistance it had provided in the past and requested that it continued to support Sri Lanka’s economic progress.

The AIIB is an international financial institution that aims to support the building of infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region. The establishment of the Bank which has 50 member states, all of whom are founders, was proposed by China in 2013.

The initiative gained support from 37 regional and 20 non regional Prospective Founding Members (PFM), all of which have signed the Articles of Agreement that form the legal basis for the bank. It started operations on December 25, 2015, after ratifications were received from 10 member states holding a total of 50 percent of the initial subscriptions of the Authorized Capital Stock. Major economies that did not become PFM include the G7/G8 members Japan and the United States. Canada was accepted on September 23, 2016.

The United Nations has addressed the launch of AIIB as having potential for "scaling up financing for sustainable development" for the concern of global economic governance.

The capital of the bank is USD 100 billion, equivalent to two thirds of the capital of the Asian Development Bank and about half that of the World Bank.

In Davos, the World Food Programme (WEF) pledged to assist Sri Lanka overcome the effects of the drought it was facing.

The Prime Minister during a meeting with the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) Ertharin Cousin, explained the negative effects of the drought, especially on the farming community and hydro power supplies.

Production of rice, the staple food of most Sri Lankan’s and the fisheries sector would be badly hit if the drought continued to prolong, he said adding that the government had made a 13-year school education compulsory. "All school children will be given free health insurance for 13-years and free medicines during the last two years of schooling."

Wickremesinghe's appeal for assistance was reciprocated positively by Ertharin who pledged WFP assistance in a time of crisis.She recalled that Sri Lanka had always cooperated with the WFP.

Erathrin emphasized on the need for an inclusive growth programme, to which the Prime Minister replied that it could be done, but the immediate priority was drought assistance.

Wickremesinghe said that Sri Lanka would benefit once the proposed trade agreement with the Rs.500 billion economy of five South Indian states including Tamil Nadu was finalised.That, he noted would be in addition to the proposed Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement ( ETCA ) with India’s Central government.

"We are also looking at furthering free trade with Pakistan", he revealed adding that economic partnerships were also being worked out with the Bay of Bengal States." Once agreements with countries such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and most likely Japan, are finalised in addition to China and Singapore, it would lay the foundation to pursue a trade pact with the Association of South East Asian Nations. This in addition to SAARC, would mean Sri Lanka will have access to three of the four largest markets in the world."

Asked as to when total infrastructure required for the proposed development projects would be completed, the Prime Minister said that some of it was already in place.

Samarawickrema said that infrastructure, which will include light rail and elevated highways, would be constructed within the next two to three years.

Karunanayake noted that the government had offered incentives to Foreign Direct Investments in the pipeline and also existing investors, with a view to fast tracking the economy.

Fernando said that the digital economy was in the process of being mapped out.

China's President Xi Jinping who met Premier Wickremesinghe prior to inaugurating WEF said that it was unrealistic for any country to believe that it could alone win the "Economic War".He reiterated his country’s commitment to investments undertaken in Sri Lanka.

The wide ranging discussions between the two leaders included the Hambantota Port and Industrial Development Projects and the Colombo Financial City, earlier referred to as Port City.

China wanted to share its prosperity with as many countries as possible and Sri Lanka figured as a key partner in its One Belt One Road initiative, he emphasised.

Jinping said that many of the problems troubling the world were not caused by economic globalization. " For instance, the refugee waves from the Middle East and North Africa in recent years have become a global concern. Several million people have been displaced and some small children lost their lives while crossing the rough sea. This is indeed heartbreaking. It is war, conflict and regional turbulence that have created this problem and its solution lies in making peace, promoting reconciliation and restoring stability. The international financial crisis is another example. It is not an inevitable outcome of economic globalization, rather it is the consequence of excessive chase of profit by financial capital and grave failure of financial regulation. Just blaming economic globalization for the world’s problems is inconsistent with reality and it will not help solve the problems."

Wickremesinghe during his meeting with renowned economist from the Colombia School of International and Public Affairs Professor Joseph said that development programmes in the pipeline would lead to Sri Lanka becoming a high income earning country by 2030.The wide ranging and in-depth discussions analysed various aspects of the ongoing and proposed projects.

The challenges facing the National Unity Government were also discussed , with the Prime Minister emphasising that it had the strength to overcome them.

The WEF was established in 1971 as a not-for-profit foundation and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. It is independent, impartial and not tied to any special interests. The Forum strives in all its efforts to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the global public interest, while upholding the highest standards of governance. Moral and intellectual integrity is at the heart of everything it does.

Its activities are shaped by a unique institutional culture founded on the stakeholder theory, which asserts that an organization is accountable to all parts of society. The institution carefully blends and balances the best of many kinds of organizations, from both the public and private sectors, international organizations and academic institutions.

The WEF believes that progress happens by bringing together people from all walks of life who have the drive and the influence to make positive change.It engages the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

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