Sri Lanka pioneered the Asian Rubber industry in 1876 with the planting of a batch of rubber seedlings in Henarathgoda Botanical Gardens in Gampaha, in Western Sri Lanka.
Rubber Product manufacturing pioneered by tire re-trading began in the 1950s and expanded rapidly after the introduction of free trade economic policies and investment promotion zones in the late 1970s.
During the past three decades privately owned and operated Sri Lanka industries have ventured into the global markets for value-added rubber products. Sri Lanka prides itself in manufacturing a number of value-added rubber products by processing natural raw rubber, which ranges from extrusion products like rubber bands, beadings; latex products such as medical, industrial and household gloves; industrial products like hoses, auto parts, industrial components, tyres, tubes, automotive tyres; and general rubber products like floor mats, carpets, sports goods, footwear, hot water bottles and related components.
The rubber products exports grew by 4.7 % in the past years and rubber and rubber products consist of around 8% of Sri Lanka’s total annual export value with an average growth rate of nearly 0.92%. Major markets for Sri Lankan Manufactured Rubber products are the USA, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and the UK. While Sri Lanka is still the largest exporter of latex crepe and sole crepe rubbers, local industry consumes over 88% of locally produced rubber.
Sri Lanka Rubber Industry value chain comprises both upstream and downstream activities. Upstream activities of the rubber sector include pre-manufacturing activities such as plantation of rubber, processing and marketing of natural raw rubber products while downstream activities include manufacturing of rubber value-added products. In addition, the 33-year life cycle of a rubber plant activated a rubber wood-based sub-sector which uses the rubberwood as fuel and processed timber material.
Farming of rubber, processing and marketing of raw rubber products are carried out at various scales and pace by smallholders, private estates and plantation companies in Sri Lanka. Smallholders account for nearly 70% of the rubber estates amounting to 133,000 hectares spread across 3 major and 15 minor rubber growing districts in the country. Nearly 200,000 people are employed in the plantation and processing of natural raw rubber of which 40% are women. The Industry stakeholders for rubber farming and processing activities include;
Easy access to premium quality natural rubber in Sri Lanka has given birth to a flourishing rubber products manufacturing industry, which consumes over 78,167 t of locally produced natural rubber and another 48,260 t of imported rubber, which includes 30,000 t of synthetic rubber. Rubber product manufacturing is solely governed by the private sector comprising large, medium and small firms. However, around 15 major firms account for over 90% of the production turnover. Few mid-sized firms generate 5% of the turnover while all other SMEs account for 5%. Rubber products sector employs around 40,000 persons and some jobs are in high skill categories which require technological competencies.
Sri Lanka produces almost all types of raw natural rubber including; ribbed smoked sheet rubber (RSS Rubber), crepe rubber, technically specified rubber (TSR), latex concentrates and speciality rubbers. RSS is still the major type of raw rubber produced in the country. However, crepe rubber leads exports with a share of 84% of the natural raw rubber exporter while less than 2% of RSS produced in Sri Lanka was exported.
Solid tyres are the main finished rubber product manufactured in Sri Lanka with the country catering to nearly a quarter of the global demand. Today, Sri Lanka is the largest exporter of industrial solid tires and the fifth largest exporter of latex gloves to the world Other products manufactured in Sri Lanka include pneumatic tyres, rubber flooring, mats, automatic components, sealing rings, rubber bands, straps, hoses and hot water bottles for the export market.
The availability of premium quality natural rubber is one of Sri Lankan rubber industry’s competitive advantages. In addition, the country has a long history of research and development into rubber farming and new rubber latex types such as Lankaprene through extensive research done at Sri Lanka Rubber Research Institute and Sri Lanka Institute of NanoTechnology (SLINTEC).
Sri Lankan rubber industries other advantages include;
Moreover, the country has introduced common standardisation and traceability requirements in the local rubber supply chain involving rubber producers, processors, traders, tire makers, other rubber buyers, environmental NGOs, and academic institutions.