Sri Lanka’s coloured stone industry which is the fourth largest export earner in the island should export more value addition gems to contribute better to the country’s’ export earnings , a senior official at Export Development Board (EDB) said.
“We are doing our best to achieve the highest value added gem market,” Bandula Egodage, chariman and chief executive of Sri Lanka Export Development Board said.
“We want the industry to export more valued added gems which will help Sri Lanka to re position it self as a gem hub.”
He was speaking at a press conference held recently at Colombo.
According to data of Central Bank, earnings from gems, diamonds and jewellery exports shrank to 381.2 million US dollars in 2014 from 445.5 million US dollars in 2013.
However no official data has been reported on raw gem exports in the island.
The island recently tightened the mining rules cancelling 16 licenses belongs to foreign gem mining companies to save the local industrialists.
Egodage said even though Sri Lanka has a historic gem industry, the island still exports large portion of gem in its raw form.
He said the other countries like Thailand take advantage of it by importing Sri Lanka’s raw gems and branding themselves as the original hub.
“Why should we send raw gems from Sri Lanka?,” He asked.
“If you don’t add value and sell it, what is the price we are getting? Our mandate is to get maximum foreign exchange,”
“Yes we need to have trade. Trade agreements are all about benefiting both parties and if anyone does not have raw they might look at ways to get it. Bring it from outside. That’s how it operates.”
“We don’t say there is anything wrong with that. If we also do not have matirials or technology we would get it through trade agreements. But agreements are there not to destroy our local industry,” he stressed.
“But having said that we are not here as the government to encourage raw for exports. Simple as that. Be it is gem or Tea or anything. But we are not here to promote raw.”
“We are taking value addition, technological advantages, marketing, branding, labeling and we are giving all the inputs on how to improve their designs.”
Egodage says the best source of having Sri Lankan gems is Thailand at this moment.
“They take our ruff, polish there and sell it to the world market.”
Spanning across 65,000 square kilometres, out of which 80 percent of the landmass undisputedly declared as ‘Potential Gem Bearings’, Sri Lanka possesses the highest density of gemstone deposits in the world producing over 70 varieties out of around 200 in the world.
Gem mining in Sri Lanka has majorly centered in and around the Ratnapura district for gem mining for several decades. Over 6,500 gem mining licenses were issued by the National Gem and jewellery Authority in 2013.
Data showed that there are over 12,500 gem mines operating in the island and about 40,000 gem miners work underground daily.
The entire industry employs approximately 600,000 persons including miners, cutters and polishers, dealers, jewellery designers, manufacturers and craftsmen, marketers and sales people, data shows.
“We have been in this industry for a long time, because with the ruff going out we do not have business,” said Nawrooz Azmi, vice chairman, lapidary segment of the Sri Lanka Gem and Jewellery Association.
“I had a factory of 100 to 150 people who only cut gems and then furnished it as a polished gem,” “But now I can’t survive since we do not get stones to cut. Now I only have about 10 people.” “This is because we do not have stones to cut. Why? Because foreigners are buying raw at a higher price and people export raw to other countries.” said a worried Azmi.
Egodage said that if a foreign direct investor wanted to invest in the gem industry Sri Lanka that should add more than 35 percent value addition for the raw gems within the island. “We need to increase the foreign direct investments and indeed right foreign direct investments coming in,” Egodage said. “But we don’t want the local industry to die.”