The 1st of August, 2023, marks the 44th anniversary of the Sri Lanka Export Development Board (EDB). The EDB was established in 1979 with the objective of establishing a strong government-level institutional framework to develop and promote Sri Lanka’s exports in order to integrate with the global economy consequent to the adoption of liberal economic policies in 1977, and it has been at the vanguard in terms of promoting and developing exports in Sri Lanka for over four decades.
Before Sri Lanka embraced open economic policies in 1977, its economy had predominantly relied on plantation crops in terms of export income. However, with the liberalisation of the economy post-1977, the Island has diversified its export portfolio to become a reliable supplier of apparel, high-quality spices, gems and jewellery, coconut-based value-added products, footwear and leather, rubber-based products (such as gloves and tyres), etc. It has also become a sought-after destination for software development, IT services as well as Business Process Outsourcing functions due to its highly skilled labour force. The EDB, as the nation’s premier export promotion agency, from its formation in 1979, has played a pivotal role in this transformation by serving as a policy adviser, monitor, promoter, facilitator, and knowledge provider for the promotion and development of Sri Lanka’s exports. The EDB has extended numerous services to Sri Lankan exporters for their capacity building, product compliance with international standards & regulations, market access, branding & promotion, diversification of products/markets, resolving industry issues and non-tariff barriers in the export markets.
Evolving to meet the nation’s requirements
Over the last four decades, the world has evolved at a rapid pace. Identifying the necessity to adapt to the developments brought about by globalization, technological advancement, and the progress of the country, the EDB too has transformed its scope, focus, as well as the nature of activities to stay in pace with the ever-changing business and commercial environment, both locally and globally. Realising the tremendous potential Sri Lanka has got in the provision of services, a separate division called Export Services was launched in 2012 to promote sectors such as ICT/BPM, Electronics and Electrical components, Wellness Tourism, Construction, Education Services, and Marine and Offshore services. In yet another manifestation of the Board’s virtue of responding to the timely requirements of the country’s economy, it developed the National Export Strategy (NES 2018-2022) which empowered the emergence of new export industries and services beyond the traditional export industries of apparel, tea, gems and rubber. The Boat Building, Spices and Concentrates, Food and Beverages, ICT/BPM, Electronics and Electrical components, and Wellness Tourism were recognized as the focus sectors under this strategic plan. An E-commerce window – known as EDB-eMARKETPLACE – was launched to realise the benefits offered by E-commerce. The Board has also given a special focus to areas such as the development of women entrepreneurship and SMEs over the last decade in cognizance of Sri Lanka’s socio-economic priorities.
Marking a moment of historical significance, Sri Lanka received its first ever Geographical Indication (GI) certification when the European Union (EU) Commission on 02nd February, 2022, granted GI status to Ceylon Cinnamon. The outcome was a result of a painstaking, decade-long, arduous endeavour led by the Sri Lanka Export Development (EDB) with the support of numerous public and private stakeholders. GI registration enables to differentiate Ceylon Cinnamon in the EU market from its substitutes of lower quality. It also serves as a source of competitive advantage which will help to increase market differentiation, product turnover and allow for a premium price from the consumer.
Demonstrating its competency and excellence internationally, the EDB accomplished another valued achievement by becoming Runner-up at the World Trade Promotion Awards - 2022 under the category of Best initiative for inclusive and sustainable trade for its SME Export Coaching programme, which was conducted in late 2021. This award ceremony recognized innovative programmes launched by Trade Promotion Organisations that helped small firms to benefit from opportunities in the international trade at a time of uncertainty. The organizations had to demonstrate that their initiatives assisted micro, small and medium-sized enterprises to become competitive in international markets.
The National Organic Control Unit (NOCU) was established under the EDB in 2014, and all Organic Product Exporters, Importers, Traders, Producers, Processors, Certification bodies, Inspection bodies and Laboratories need to register with NOCU to ensure the credibility of Organic Agricultural Products traded within Sri Lanka and exported to the international market.
Branding Sri Lankan Products
The EDB has initiated innovative measures to position Sri Lankan products attractively in the international marketplace. To strengthen quality and preserve originality, the Board implemented licencing of ‘Ceylon Spices’ trademark in 2020 for qualifying producers, processors and exporters of cinnamon, pepper, clove, nutmeg and mace as well as cardamom. Furthermore, a national branding initiative was undertaken in 2018 to promote the ICT/BPM sector in Sri Lanka under the theme Island of Ingenuity (IOI), in recognition of the immense potential ICT/BPM sector has to offer for Sri Lanka.
Fostering a generation of exporters
Going beyond its comfort zone, the EDB has over the years taken numerous initiatives to propel the spirit of local entrepreneurship to the international marketplace. The New Exporter Development Programme (NEDP) is implemented by the Board with the aim of assisting Sri Lankan entrepreneurs with export potential to enter the export market by developing their capacities to suit the requirements of the international market. The inspirational success stories of the NEDP are aired every Saturday on Rupavahini News at 8.30 pm and Channel Eye News at 9 pm.
Having recognized the inherent potential of entrepreneurship in women, the EDB launched Women Entrepreneurship Development Program, which includes a multi-fold approach in order to address the obvious disparity between male and female SME business owners. Furthermore, the EDB has been able to assist Sri Lankan entrepreneurs to enter the European Union (EU) via its fruitful engagement with the Import Promotion Desk (IPD) – Germany since 2018. The IPD finds exporters in its partner countries and prepare them intensively for all the requirements of the EU market.
Forging a close relationship with the general public
In a ground-breaking initiative by a public-sector organisation, the Board successfully organised its inaugural “Open Day” program last June, aimed at providing guidance to innovative entrepreneurs and encouraging their participation in the export sector. The event was extremely successful and garnered a tremendous response with over a thousand budding entrepreneurs from across the island in attendance. Notably, the program witnessed a significant participation of young individuals who were passionate in exploring opportunities in the export market. The programme encompassed a range of activities and services tailored to meet the diverse needs of the participants. The key areas covered during the event included comprehensive explanations of export procedures, insights into agricultural and industrial product markets, strategies for product enhancement, identification of potential export linkages, and offering guidance on conforming to international standards.
Looking forward to the future
The EDB is now in the process of developing a 5-year strategic plan from 2023 to 2027 with the objective of increasing Sri Lanka’s exports to US$ 31.3 billion by 2027. The plan also encompasses increasing the market share of Sri Lanka in the top 10 existing export markets by 10% annually (the USA, UK, India, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, the UAE, Belgium and France), identifying 10-15 potential new markets and increasing the market share of the selected markets by 5% annually, promoting customized value added products and services to the identified niche markets with premium prices, and carrying out product – market analysis on high-end niche markets in addition to disseminating their findings with the exporter community.
The EDB is determined to serve the nation by undertaking its role as the nation’s apex export promotion agency, as Sri Lanka embarks on its journey towards becoming a developed nation by 2048 in order to create a standard-of-living to its citizens which is filled with hope and prosperity.