Chairman's speech 2019 - 2020
ADDRESS AT THE 22nd ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING OF THE EXPORTERS ASSOCIATION OF SRI LANKA
It is with much pride and delight I stand here today, as the Chairman of the EASL. I want to first and foremost acknowledge my appreciation to all those who placed their trust in my capability to give the right kind of leadership to this great institution, An Association that has been in existence over the past two decades.
As I look at the names of some of the founder members and the purpose for which this Association was formed back in time, I'm inspired to take the leadership, noting that the challenges then and now have not been much different. It is evident, that even with the advancement of science and technology the quality of human life when transacting business and the nature, and the spirit in which we do business have not progressed to the better.
Sadly, there has clearly been a deterioration of ethics and morals and instead of developing towards an enriching future we have positioned ourselves to be vulnerable today due to selfish, corrupt, unsustainable thinking, putting self and business before Country and its people. All the main stakeholders, the Politicians both in government and the opposition, the public sector and the private sector are to be blamed for not having done their part towards development.
In the recent past, even after coming out of a trade handicap after a senseless civil war that existed for three decades which clouded and blocked the potential of growth in this Nation, THE POLITICAL LEADERSHIP HAS FAILED….. to lead this country to where we should be, but instead further marred the reputation of our beautiful island by being corrupt, none transparent and none accountable, either through means of a dictatorial leadership or a weak leadership. Either way, none of the main political parties have been able to remove these stains and usher in good governance, law and order and fair trade, leaving doubts in the hearts of potential investors who would have been ideally bringing in the much needed Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) to boost our economy.
Sri Lanka needs to compete with the rest of the world, thinking "No man is an island". If we look at some of the successful economies like Singapore, one begins to think ‘ what resources do they have? Compared to our blessed motherland'. But how have they evolved to be the trading hub that they are today? If not for the visionary thinking of its political leadership ably assisted by its robust stake holders.
We the Exporters Association, in the recent past has done an exhaustive study, identifying key areas for improvement and action and published two valuable strategy documents that have been handed over to the Ministry of Finance and other key government institutions. Though some of our proposals have been well received and even incorporated to the national budget. We must say that we are disappointed that the proper implementation of same has not been done – leaving us standard in our blocks, and not helped us to move forward. We have not seen the intent and the commitment in the part of the government to fire all guns in order to grow the exports. With the exception of The Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade (MODSIT), The Ministry of Ports & Shipping and since of late The Ministry of Science and Technology.
I want to commend The Export Development Board (EDB) ably led by that dynamic lady Mrs. Indira Malwatte and her team, who have been closely working with us through the formulation of the National Export Strategy (NES) and other export development initiatives.
I'm also in appreciation of the integrity and the tireless efforts of Madam Sonali Wijeratne of the Department of Commerce and her team who have worked hard to implement the Trade Iformation Portal (TIP) and other trade facilitation initiatives.
I wish to acknowledge the vital role played by The Sri Lanka Customs and The Board of Investment (BOI) to improve the efficiency and speed simplifying the processes in order to help the exporters compete with other international origins.
I urge all government institutions who are to facilitate exports to fully understand Sri Lanka's obligations to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) singed with the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and stay committed to execute and fulfill all possible trade facilitation initiatives, paving way to create ease of doing business, and moving forward towards a national single window, on which we have all invested much time.
I must insist that the trade cannot afford to entertain sudden changes in procedures and processes without proper planning and dialog and without explaining reasons for same, as done in many occasions in the recent past. Arbitrary increases of charges due to add-hoc procedural changes cannot be afforded without the proper value addition to the supply chain. These measures will only make Sri Lanka uncompetitive.
As I speak, I hear from the vine that a new procedure that is to be implemented with scanning of cargo will cost the trade additionally for export and imports (brought in for export). Whilst we are fully in support of the introduction and the installation of scanners and other modern intelligent security devices we are of the opinion that the trade should not be taxed or burdened. We already have sour experiences in the past where several levies have been imposed under the guise of development and international marketing, but has eventually been utilized for entertainment or for a totally different purpose from what it was meant to be. Sri Lanka must be mindful and be sensitive to capture the transactional cost when pitching in with other efficient origins.
It is unfortunate that we have to voice out our displeasure and disappointment, but it is imperative that we do it nevertheless in the hope that all stakeholders will pick up these recommendations positively and work towards achieving common goals that will see Sri Lanka turning around and standing in front rather than lagging and being left behind.
We have an excellent story to tell as a maritime hub, specially in relation to the growth of the Colombo Port. But with over 75% or more coming from the transshipment volumes from our neighbouring countries, other than for the port handling income we make, we haven't capitalized on the possible trading platform, that would have enabled us to generate additional export revenue. Development of
entreport trade and multi country consolidation, free zone facilities and aggressive off shore trading are game changes. We must understand these concepts and develop the necessary procedures to make it more feasible for business to operate.
Finally ladies and gentlemen as Sri Lanka races against time position herself to be contender in the global platform in par with the rest of the world, it is imperative that we overcome all hurdles and handicaps that we have locally in order to forge ahead in full throttle to end up as a match winner.