As the pioneer of the global Natural rubber industry, Sri Lanka is renowned for its production of high-quality natural rubber and rubber-based products. Initiated by the planting of 1,919 seedlings in 1876, the Sri Lanka rubber industry has given birth to an outstanding and profitable supply chain. Products made in Sri Lanka are internationally accepted for their durability and superior quality. Throughout the years, the industry has paved its way to niche market-based products such as solid tires, sole crepe for shoes, and high-quality surgical gloves and other gloves.
The manufactured raw natural rubber falls under types and varieties, out of which the main grades are Ribbed smoked sheets (RSS) rubber, crepe rubber, Technically specified rubber (TSR), and Latex concentrate.
The country’s natural rubber manufacturing industry includes small, medium, and large product and material manufacturing organizations that collectively result in a large portfolio of products that are either sold locally or exported.
Sri Lanka exports rubber and rubber-based products to the USA, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and the United Kingdom. The country also exports semi-processed natural rubber to Pakistan, Malaysia, India, Japan, and Germany.
Sri Lankan rubber industry value chain comprises two sections namely, upstream and downstream activities.
Pre-manufacturing activities such as plantation of rubber, processing, and marketing of natural rubber products are considered upstream activities while manufacturing of rubber-based products falls under downstream activities. Other than these two segments, another sub-segment of the rubber industry value chain includes the harvesting of rubberwood at the end of their 33-year life cycle for fuel and processed timber.
Smallholders own a majority of the rubber estates in Sri Lanka. Small and medium rubber farmers, Large scale rubber plantations, small and medium scaled latex processing units, large plantation-based latex processing factories, and Local marketing and exporting organizations are the stakeholders of upstream activities while most of the personnel involved in the downstream activities possess high skills and qualifications including technological competencies.
As a key player in the worldwide rubber product supply chain, Sri Lanka serves the global demand with a wide range of locally manufactured products. The demand for these products across the world represents the health and growth of the rubber industry.
Sri Lanka is the largest exporter of industrial solid tires used in the agricultural, industrial and logistics sector vehicles including forklift trucks, airport vehicles, heavy-duty transport vehicles, platform trucks, and other industrial vehicles. Sri Lanka also manufactures pneumatic tires.
The country is the fifth largest exporter of latex gloves in the world and also exports other rubber products including flooring mats, industrial components automotive components, rubber bands, sealing rings, straps, hoses, and hot water bottles.
According to the Sri Lanka Rubber Industry Master Plan, the country’s rubber industry has the potential to reach an export value of 3000 Million USD by the year 2024.
The Sri Lankan rubber industry has enjoyed many advantages since its inception.
Other competencies of the industry include the availability of a trained workforce in all sectors, Compliance with global labour standards with ethical practices, and the presence of sustainable environmental practices.
With the rise of many opportunities in the global markets for natural rubber, Sri Lanka is aiming to secure a much larger share in the global market. As the global demand for rubber-based products are expected to increase with the improvement of life quality and per capita income in the South American and African countries Sri Lankan rubber manufacturers can achieve an aggregate annual turnover of nearly 4 billion USD by 2026 With sufficient infrastructure, policy support, and other facilities.
As per the Sri Lanka Rubber Industry Master Plan, an agreed approach to industry growth 25 projects and 10 necessary programs would be implemented across the island with the view to developing rubber cultivation and product manufacturing in identified locations.
A part of the ambitious program, Rubber City is a dedicated rubber industrial park that will be established with a satellite network of auxiliary facilities to develop rubber products for niche markets.
Future projects also include the increase of local raw material production through enhancement of rubber production in traditional rubber growing areas. In addition, the plan also looks into giving extra value to rubberwood, a unique renewable source that carries high demand across the world.
Upgrading the industry’s technological stack and infrastructure at rubber related research centres, universities, and private sector firms will also lead to enhancing competencies at the industry level eventually increasing market responsiveness and industry sustainability practices.