The only country in the world to be entirely surrounded by another country and also called as Africa’s Switzerland, signaled on 25 April for the first time that it is now ready to initiate multi-faceted bilateral ties with Sri Lanka. “We can begin our bilateral trade with Ceylon Tea exports to Lesotho. Then we can proceed to agriculture cooperation” said an upbeat Bothata Tsikoane, the New Delhi based High Commissioner of Lesotho for Sri Lanka on 25 April in Colombo.
Bothata Tsikoane was addressing Rishad Bathiudeen (Minister of Industry and Commerce of Sri Lanka) on 25 April at EDB in Colombo during his first courtesy call made on Minister Bathiudeen.
“We want to establish bilateral cooperation with Sri Lanka in a more formal way and in a multi-faceted way. Then we want to see about the strategic hub outlook of Sri Lanka so that we can make use of it. We can begin our bilateral trade with Ceylon Tea exports to Lesotho. Then proceed to agriculture cooperation” said Tsikoane on 25 April. “Our country is described as the Switzerland of Africa due to its snow-capped mountains and scenery therefore it is a key tourist attraction in the region. We have a stable economic outlook, and though Lesotho industry sector is not as diversified as Sri Lanka’s, our garment industry plays a key role in the economy. In fact, it’s the dominant industry for us. We like to send our garments to South and East Asia too. Since we import most of our food needs from South Africa, including rice, we can absorb Sri Lankan food exports, especially rice. We can achieve these by firstly establishing bilateral cooperation in a more formal way” (HE) Tsikoane stressed.
According to the Department of Commerce, Sri Lanka’s trade with Lesotho is almost minimal with a total trade $ 0.03 Mn (only) in 2012. More than 75% of food requirements of Lesotho are imported to the country, with only around 25% of the requirement produced inland.
Responding to Tsikoane, Minister Bathiudeen said: “Sri Lanka is the emerging strategic hub located in South Asia and in 2013 we have shown record apparel earnings despite difficult international market conditions. Lesotho is a promising virgin market for Sri Lanka’s exports and our exporters will be glad to make their entry which I and my Ministry can facilitate. Our apparels are readily snapped up by top global brands. We invite Lesotho’s apparel firms to invest in our reputed apparel sector, partner with it in JVs and use our hub positioning to reach the Asian markets. I and my Ministry are ready to extend our fullest support to investors from Lesotho. We are also ready to supply you with renowned Ceylon Tea. As we are now a rice exporter, I am pleased to say that Lesotho can import our rice as well. We already export rice to several African countries -Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia- and also to Dubai. We are open to agricultural and other types of cooperation with Lesotho and I believe that such initiatives can be followed successfully once ties are more formalised.”
Both Tsikoane and Minister Bathiudeen also mulled other potential areas of cooperation to strengthen bilateral understanding.