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Regional hub concept:

'Enormous opportunities for British companies'


Senior Deputy President, National Chamber Thilak Godamanna presents a memento to British High Commissioner John Rankin. Deputy President Sujeeve Samaraweera looks on.

A strong commercial relationship is a win-win situation for UK and Sri Lanka in building growth, employment opportunities and prosperity, British High Commissioner John Rankin told a seminar on 'Bilateral Trade Between Sri Lanka and UK' organised by National Chamber of Commerce recently.

Excerpts from his speech.

"Promoting commercial relations and helping to increase bilateral trade between the UK and Sri Lankan is one of my objectives.

The rapidly growing markets of Asia, which include Sri Lanka, present strong opportunities for British businesses.

British businesses, with their experience, expertise and strong track record in innovation, can in turn match the needs of the market here. A strong commercial relationship is a win-win situation for both countries in building growth, employment opportunities and prosperity.

UKTI (UK Trade and Investment) works in the UK and overseas with UK-based businesses to ensure its success in international markets. The UK is your third largest trading partner by value and second largest in volume, after India.

In 2013, UK exports to Sri Lanka amounted to 167 million, a 14% increase compared to the previous year, while UK imports from Sri Lanka amounted to 849 million, a healthy trade balance in favour of Sri Lanka.

Business climate

In addition to UK companies, there are other areas of UK-Sri Lankan business which are perhaps less widely recognised, but which are also important. This country hosts the largest number of Chartered Institute of Management Accountant members of any country outside the UK.

The Sri Lankan business climate is viewed favourably and there is a well-founded perception that it is easier to do business here than in other countries of the region. The latest figures show that the UK remains among the top 10 investors in Sri Lanka.

We are now the fastest growing major advanced economy in the world, and the IMF has noted that our economy 'has rebounded strongly'. Our current account deficit has narrowed and the unemployment rate continues to fall.

UK manufacturing, services and construction surveys all point towards good growth, supporting the Pound Sterling to a six-year high.

There is no Western country that is more open to inward investment. That's why we have got China investing in civil nuclear power in the UK. And why London is now the Western hub of offshore Renminbi Trading. And why in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index, the UK is by far the highest ranking major EU economy.

In the last Budget our Chancellor doubled the amount of lending available to British exporters and cut the interest rates on loans by a third.

Today, we have the most competitive export finance package in Europe.

A number of UK companies had successfully won business in Sri Lanka with export finance backing. The most recent has been Cleveland Bridge, being awarded a contract to supply 537 rural bridges.

We are aware that those who know most about the challenges, realities and opportunities of business are business people themselves. I pay tribute to the help and support that we at the High Commission enjoy from our British Chamber of Commerce - the Council for Business with Britain (CBB).

They help us continue to deliver success for UK businesses looking for opportunities in Sri Lanka. With over 140 companies as members and membership growing, they are in my opinion, the best chamber in Sri Lanka devoted to trade promotion and commercial growth between the two Nations.

CSR project

With the support of the British Council and generous funding particularly from HSBC, they deliver a English Language Teaching Program as their main Corporate Social Responsibility project, which reaches every region of Sri Lanka through which thousands of schoolchildren have benefitted over the past nine years.

Repeating the 2013 UK business successes in Sri Lanka will be difficult. But to try and maintain the commercial success UK companies enjoyed last year we have arranged a Trade Mission to Sri Lanka this month.

About 20 UK companies have registered to participate across all '5+1 Regional Hub' sectors identified by your Government as being crucial for the economic development of Sri Lanka - aviation, maritime, knowledge, commercial, energy and tourism.

In any country, there is a need to cut barriers to business, which in turn can help to attract further Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and growth. Sri Lanka is an easier place to do business than most of its neighbouring countries.

This ambitious regional hub concept presents enormous opportunities for UK businesses in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka's high literacy rates and skilled population places the economy on the right footing to avoid falling into the middle-income trap. This can be combined with investment into higher levels of human capital, advanced infrastructure, innovation, R and D and building institutions that promote dynamism, helping unleash the private sector potential that will in turn drive further growth.

Innovation is a key for economic growth, creating jobs and solving the energy crisis. Appropriate investment into innovation and R and D can be the cornerstone of any economic policy in driving economic growth.

Sri Lanka has made considerable headway in this. The country has a strong ICT background. The work of Millennium IT, and its use of innovation, has made it a well sought after global company.

I have visited a number of garment factories and have been impressed with the cutting edge technology being used to produce high quality clothing in good working conditions.

When Michael Phelps won his gold medals at the Athens Olympics in 2004, he was wearing the fast skin swim suit designed by Speedo and manufactured by MAS Holdings.

The first carbon neutral brassiere was manufactured in Sri Lanka. I know that the use of nano technology for manufacturing garments is being explored.

These are all good examples of how Sri Lanka is already on the right path of integrating innovation into the economy.

Sri Lanka offers unique opportunities for UK companies. Strong economic growth, a highly educated labour force and access to markets in the region makes Sri Lanka an attractive market for investors."

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