Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade, Malik Samarawickrama proposed a quarterly meeting with European Union diplomats to iron out issues faced by European companies at a forum last week where the EU delegation sought clarity on lease of land and property ownership and long-term visas for investors.
The re-launching of the EU-Sri Lanka Business dialogue was organized by the Board of Investment (BOI) and the ministry, to address outstanding matters concerning investors from the EU, which is Sri Lanka’s top trading partner, representing 31% of all of Sri Lanka’s exports and is also Sri Lanka’s second largest source of imports.
Samarawickrama said that by March there would be a new structure that would focus on investment promotion. Sri Lanka is now ready for business and this year will be a very crucial year where major improvements would be introduced to play an important part in the country’s future economic development, he said, according to a BOI statement.
Samarawickrama said that the new unity government’s economic program would create important opportunities for EU investors in the future. Reforms that would be implemented in the next few months include the establishment of a single window for investment, whereby investors would obtain approval for their projects within a timeframe of a mere two weeks.
The European Union delegation was led by Ambassador of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Tung Lai Margue, and was assisted by the ambassadors and commercial counsellors of the EU countries that maintain embassies in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan side, led by Samarawickrama, included Ministry Secretary Chandani Wijewardhana, Managing Director of the Agency for Economic Development, Mangala Yapa, BOI Chairman Upul Jayasuriya, Director General Duminda Ariyasinghe and Chairperson of the Export Development Board, Indira Malwatte.
Samarawickrama thanked the EU for recommending that the GSP+ facility be restored to Sri Lanka and spoke of the need to improve exports further, mentioning fruits, vegetables, floriculture and horticulture products as additional goods to be exported to the EU.
Ambassador Margue said the EU imported an estimated US$1.6 billion worth of garments and also was involved in building further economic ties with Sri Lanka such as new EU funded trade, lifting the fisheries ban and working towards the restoration of new GSP+ benefits.
Sri Lanka now has a very efficient fisheries set-up, has good governance and has met the EU standard for GSP+ to be restored, he said.
Hence fisheries products and agricultural products which the Minister had mentioned would also be covered under the GSP+ agreement and will enter the European Union duty free, he said.
The Ambassador also said that one very positive aspect of GSP+ was its potential to bring about backward integration that would help in the manufacture of yarn in Sri Lanka which is needed by Sri Lanka apparel manufacturers.
He said that the dialogue would be an excellent platform to address issues that impact on investment such as the lease of land, ownership of property and the possible awarding of a 5-year visa for investors in Sri Lanka, which the statement said was being considered favourably.
Another area which was discussed, included transparent tender procedures to ensure that companies from the EU can also bid for government tenders. The Government was seeking the possibility of setting up a central portal where planned projects would be listed. - CJ