As Sri Lanka’s trade with the virgin Eurasian market Belarus clocked $ 14 Mn, the gateway to the 170 Mn strong custom union wants to renew trade and business immediately -as early as in July.
“With your assistance, we want to prepare fruitful projects with Sri Lanka. We propose a Joint Economic Commission with Sri Lanka as early as July 2014 to be held in Colombo, if possible. We also can formulate the first Belarus Business delegation to Colombo during this event as per your interest” said a keen Vitaly Prima (the New Delhi based Ambassador of Belarus to Sri Lanka) on 22 May in Colombo.
Ambassador Prima was addressing the official Sri Lankan team led by Rishad Bathiudeen (Minister of Industry and Commerce) at the Ministry of Industry and Commerce on 22 May. Taking part in the discussion along with Minister Bathiudeen were R D S Kumararatne (Director-General of Commerce), Sujatha Weerakoone (DG-EDB), officials of Department of Commerce & EDB as well as reps of Belarus consul in Sri Lanka. Belarus is the world’s third largest potash power and an industry driven economy with a GDP equal to Sri Lanka.
For Sri Lanka, Belarus remains a virgin market. The first high level Belarus team to arrive in Sri Lanka in recent times, met Minister Bathiudeen and his officials in Colombo in August 2013.
According to the Department of Commerce, bilateral trade between both countries stood at $ 14.2 Mn in 2013 and bilateral trade volumes between Sri Lanka and Belarus more than doubled from its $ 7 Mn levels in 2010.
90% of Sri Lanka’s exports have been tea. Other export items are pneumatic tyres, articles for packing of goods and food preparations. Fertilizers (Potassium Chloride) has been the major import item from Belarus contributing to more than 95% of total imports in from Belarus in 2013. Belarus is the world’s third largest potash supplier after Canada and Braziland one of the key dairy economies in the world well-known for its cheese. The Russia-Kazakstan-Belarus Customs Union is reportedly keen for its expansion, with new regional members.
Ambassador Prima addressing Minister Bathiudeen, said: “With your assistance, we want to prepare fruitful projects with Sri Lanka. We propose a Joint Economic Commission (JEC) with Sri Lanka as early as July 2014 to be held in Colombo, if possible. I am pleased to hand over our proposal to you today in this regard. We believe the proposed JEC could be wide ranging-involving such aspects as trade, investment, education, agriculture and even science and technology. Closer ties with our country could open a 170 million strong Eurasian market of Russia-Kazakstan-Belarus Customs Union for Sri Lanka. We are also looking for more apparel and leather imports from Sri Lanka since our apparel production levels are low. “
“We understand you have a growing leather export industry here and we are also looking for upper shoe patterns/parts in big volumes for our shoe manufacturers from you. We continue to buy Sri Lankan made solid rubber tyres. We also like your fish and are keen on bigger imports of Sri Lankan seafood”
Responding to Ambassador Prima, Minister Bathiudeen said: “Due to President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s new initiatives, Lanka-Belarus cooperation has been strengthened in recent times. In this background, we welcome your proposals for Joint Economic Cooperation and I also suggest B2B visits to kick-off business and investment cooperation with Sri Lanka.
“Depending on the concurrence other line Ministries, July is a good time to start. Our current bilateral trade levels at $ 14 Mn shows of the huge unrealized trade potentials that could be realized with the latest trade efforts. We also invite Belarus investors to partner with us in our government’s proposed 60 investment projects as well as in our apparel, leather and seafood sectors. I propose the Department of Commerce under my Ministry to be the focal point in renewal of our bilateral trade efforts. We understand that Belarus is a dairy leader in the world. Therefore we welcome your support to our dairy sector. Stronger powdered milk manufacturing capacity for Sri Lanka is the need of the hour and can help us to cut down on our huge annual milk powder import bill of $ 1.7 Bn! I also invite a Belarus Business delegation to Colombo,” Minister Rishad Bathiudeen said.
Ambassador Prima, responding to Minister Bathiudeen, said: “Being one of world’s leading dairy nations, we can support developing Sri Lanka’s dairy sector-and not only on a single aspect such as powdered milk production but in its entire value chain! We shall favorably consider your request in this regard! As per your interest we would also formulate the first Belarus Business delegation to Colombo during July.”
Both Ambassador Prima and Minister Bathiudeen also explored other possible areas of bilateral cooperation on 22 May.