I thank the Exporters' Association of Sri Lanka for inviting me to the AGM and giving me the opportunity to address this distinguished gathering of members.
The Exporters Association which represents about 80% of exporters in the country is the foremost body for exporters in Sri Lanka. We highly appreciate the contribution of Association towards the export development effort of the country.
The Government's vision as envisaged in the 'Mahinda Chintana' is to transform Sri Lanka into a strategically important economic centre of the world. This would then lead to socio economic development of the country. The export sector which contributes 17% to the GDP of the country, clearly plays an important role in achieving this objective.
The EDB is the premier state organization entrusted with the task of developing and promoting exports from Sri Lanka. The EDB is geared towards promoting products and services of the country with the objective of making Sri Lanka the most sought after destination for global sourcing in identified product sectors.
We strongly believe that the private/public partnership is very essential for the growth and the development of the sector. Private public partnership is not only essential for formulating successful export development strategies but also in implementing the same.
Our approach is based on the principle that the public sector plays the facilitator role in developing the export sector while the exporters drive the sector.
The public private partnership is also enshrined in the EDB Act. The enactment has provisions for establishment of Advisory Committees that are oriented towards the development and promotion of specific products as well as functional aspects of export trade.
In July this year we have established 26 new Advisory Committees comprising 400 members. These members represent both the private and public sector. This will enable us to work together to identify the problems confronted by the export sector and find suitable solutions to such problems. We have already scheduled the inaugural meetings of these committees and we expect the full participation of all members.
The export sector of Sri Lanka after showing strong growth in 2010 and 2011 experienced a set back in 2012 which continues to prevail even in this year. The set back is mainly due to the aggravated economic conditions in our key markets. The turmoil in these markets has lead to a drop in demand not only for our exports but also for exports of other developing &, emerging economies. Also there are supply side constraints in the domestic front.
The anticipated economic recovery in EU and USA which absorb nearly 50% of our products have not taken place. According to international agencies such as the IMF it will take some time for growth to pick up in these regions. The unsettled conditions in the Middle East has further aggravated the situation.
Despite these challenges I am happy to state that according to provisional Customs data, our export earnings have recorded a commendable increase in the Month of June this year. Export to our key markets USA and EU, specially to USA, have also shown a satisfactory increase in June 2013.
The problems in our key markets suggests that we should focus on diversifying our markets to other regions. The Asian region comprising China and India have registered substantial economic growth. Accordingly, we are concentrating on diversifying our markets to these regions and other member countries in the BRICS group where the potential is high. This will be done while sustaining our market share in our key existing markets.
We have already carried out promotional programmes in India and China and some more programmes are planned in the future to be carried out in these regions. We have also carried out market studies on Brazil and South Africa to ascertain the opportunities and barriers. The objective is to formulate suitable strategies to penetrate into these markets.
I am confident that the Exporters Association could make a very positive contribution to these efforts using their close relationship with relevant stakeholders nationally and internationally. Utilizing these strong links the Exporters Association could facilitate to create healthy business relationships to enhance our exports.
Sri Lanka has today become an ideal location for international buyers, to source a wide range of highly quality products and services. But our competitive advantage has been deteriorating over the years due to a number of factors.
The government has maintained inflation rate at a single digit level which is a positive factor. The energy cost is a major component in the cost structure . The Government has offered tax concessions for industries adopting alternative energy sources. It is very important that we improve our productivity to regain and sustain our competitive advantage. The government has also offered tax incentives for upgrading technology and acquisition of new technology.
Improvement in technology is very essential to produce innovative products and reduce cost of production. This would lead to improved productivity and competitiveness.
The EDB is also focusing on branding as a strategy to increase popularity of our products and enhance export earnings.
The strategic plan prepared by the EDB in consultation with the Advisory Committees have been updated to cover the period 2012 – 2016. It contains several programmes aimed at developing and adopting products and services to meet international market requirements, assisting exporters to identify new markets, facilitate supply chain efficiencies and promoting export oriented SMEs etc. We intend to implement these programs for the benefit of the export sector.
I would request you to have a close rapport with the EDB to discuss any issues or constraints which require our attention.
Finally, I wish to extend my best wishes for the successful conduct of the AGM of the Exporters Association.