Sri Lanka’s apex platform to solve exporters’ issues, the Exporters’ Forum, wrapped its seventh session successfully on 27 November with a significant change to the ongoing interaction process; the Lankan exporters may no longer need to agonise till the next forum announcement to find solutions. “You don’t have to wait for this once in three months’ forum but you can now contact us anytime. As we move towards one stop shop solutions, EDB will be restructured and will be made as attractive as possible to exporters,” announced Lankan State Minister of International Trade Sujeewa Senasinghe.
State Minister Senasinghe was addressing the seventh Exporters’ Forum facilitated by the country’s apex export facilitator EDB and held on the afternoon of 27 November at NDB-EDB Towers, Colombo. The Exporters’ Forum focused on 52 export-related critical issues involving 29 firms including Alpex Aqua, Cargills Quality Foods, Multichemi Exports Ltd., Ravi Industries, Samson International and ACL Cables.
Reps from such line ministries and agencies as the BoI, Central Bank, GSMB, Customs, Excise Department, Sri Lankan Air Force, MRI, LRC, CEB, CDA, CRI, and Ministries of Development Strategies and International Trade, Finance, Plantations, Agriculture, Planning, Health and even Chambers such as the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and associations such as the Ceramics and Glass Council, Wood Based Industries, Association of Manufacturers and Exporters of Rubber Products etc were present to help promptly resolve issues presented. Many such exporter concerns, especially VAT refund issues and permission issues were resolved on the spot at this session.
“Our exports have come down from world’s GDP share from 0.9% from 10 years ago to 0.6% and in local GDP from 34% to 14% so we need to think anew. We are planning to revive our exports manufacturing. This is the Asian century. Countries such as Korea and Japan revived their economies with the help of few major companies. We don’t have any hidden agendas. Our aim is to make the exporters as comfortable as possible, provide you with service, take away the red tape and for us to help us as much as possible.
“In this Asian century, countries around us developed a lot – Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea etc. The Budget 2016 is an export oriented budget. The export sector is around $ 11 billion and in five years’ time we are aiming at $ 35 billion and if we get our act right, we can go up to $ 50 billion. Branding, new technology, thinking in new directions are the ways we can achieve what other developed countries achieved,” said State Minister Senasinghe.
“We have a great deal to achieve. At the start, it is rustic and won’t be easy for us. We have borrowed at 6.9% average dollar rate in past few years for state’s investments and have to pay Rs. 1,200 million annually for loan re-payments! We have certain state investments such as H’tota port and Mattala Airport with no benefits. We have to carry all these burdens. This is not said as an excuse but this is the situation. I am pleased to say that you don’t have to wait for this once in a three months’ Forum but you can now contact us anytime – even if you have any queries and complaints you can always forward it to us to solve your problems. As we move towards one stop shop solutions, EDB will be restructured and will be made as attractive as possible,” he added.
EDB Chairperson and CEO Indira Malwatte said: “Ware trying to revive the Exporters’ Forum to make it more meaningful. Though exports plunged our exporters still kept us going. Even our Ease of Doing Business Index ranking has plummeted. If we can improve these indices, we may not need this type of a Forum.”
Several exporters who were at the 27 November session welcomed Minister Senasinghe’s new strategy of being ‘online’ and any time support for them. “We welcome Minister Senasinghe’s idea of relevant institutions being always available to help us,” said a participant who wished anonymity. “This could be an important change,” he added.