Sri Lanka moves background agency DoC to battle frontlines

Ministry of Industry and Commerce says

* First national level market diversification effort takes off in earnest

* Rishad praises apparel sector for breaking into three new int’l markets ‘under difficult conditions’

As its global market destinations turned more challenging, Sri Lanka, in a major move, has positioned its Department of Commerce (DoC) to the frontlines of its exports drive, suddenly vesting an otherwise quiet, background agency with a crucial new role.  "As you may already know Sri Lanka’s main export markets are the EU and the US. But there is a recession in these important markets and the latest signs are that this slump could last for another 2 to 3 years. Identification of new markets for our exports and expanding current segments therefore should be done on an urgent basis. I am pleased to say the launch of the Consultative Committee on Market Diversification can ensure that these twin needs are addressed effectively" announced Rishad Bathiudeen, Minister of Industry and Commerce of Sri Lanka on 01 November.

 Minister Bathiudeen was addressing the first Ministerial level multi-stakeholder meeting held at his Ministry on 01 November to form the Consultative Committee on Market Diversification (CCMD), Sri Lanka’s first ever national level initiative to address the growing turmoil its global export destinations. The cross-functional initiative is a collaborative effort of several key Ministries, the treasury and the private sector as well as various leading Chambers of the country.  Reps from such institutions as the Ceylon National Chamber of Industries (CNCI), the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL), National Chamber of Commerce, National Chamber of Exporters, Economic Development Ministry, Minister Bathiudeen’s Ministry (Industry and Commerce -and its Export Development Board and the Department of Commerce), Agricultural Ministry, Finance Ministry, Plantation Industries Ministry, the Treasury, the Tea Board, and the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) jointly threw their weight behind the simply named but the crucial task force on market diversification. The CCMD will be chaired by the Secretary of Ministry of Industry and Commerce while the Department of Commerce of the Ministry will be responsible for the overall coordination of the Committee. The CCMD is tasked with better and bigger exports penetration to such emerging economies as China, Brazil, South Africa and Russia (among others) on an urgent basis. Equally important is that CCMD can also look into enhancing the coverage of Sri Lanka’s present trade agreements (Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement, Pakistan-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement, Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement, South Asian Free Trade Area and Global System of Trade Preferences) in time to come.  

 "As our key markets are challenged due to global slowdown, the EDB under the Ministry is now specially working to sustain the existing segments. However, we need to diversify to new markets for us to survive" said Anura Siriwardene, Secretary to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. "The CCMD will directly focus on this urgent need while also looking at expanding the coverage and strengthening of our existing international trade agreements" Siriwardene said.

 Minister Bathiudeen also praised the private sector and the Chambers present for their "efforts in contributing to Sri Lanka’s exports drive." "It is very important that we, the government and you, the private sector, join together and explore the possibilities for us to survive. I am given to understand that our apparel leader JAAF, despite difficult global conditions, has successfully entered new markets such as S.Korea, UAE and Saudi Arabia with brand Sri Lanka -for which I congratulate JAAF. I am also pleased to see that EDB has identified seven new export thrusts sectors-apparel, tea, rubber, coconuts, jewellery, spices, ICT and food & beverages" Minister Bathiudeen said.

Previously, during the 23 October launch event of the UNIDO backed, Spice Council promoted national project "Enhancing the Compliance and Productive Capacities and Competitiveness of the Cinnamon Value Chains in Sri Lanka" at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo, Minister Bathiudeen announced: "We are not going to remain passive at a time when our export markets around the world turn more challenging due to the decline in leading segments and the downward revision of GDP projections for India and China. We are under no illusions that our exports will not be difficult as leading markets become increasingly difficult. In fact, we are taking active steps to safeguard our exports. For the first time I am pleased to reveal that I have been personally meeting and consulting many top Chamber members in the country with regard to our future exports strategies. I am now pleased to announce that as a result of these consultations during the last few months, we are now on a new initiative of setting up a Consultative Committee on Market Diversification representing the interests of a wider cross section of the economy."

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