Be outward-looking, PM urges businessmen | Sunday Observer

Be outward-looking, PM urges businessmen

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe browses through a souvenir. PIC: HIRANTHA GUNATHILAKA
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe browses through a souvenir. PIC: HIRANTHA GUNATHILAKA

Urging businessmen to be outward-looking in their enterprises, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called upon the business community to cast aside the fear of opening up the economy to foreign investors who would help take the economy to the next stage.

The Premier was speaking at the 59th Annual General Meeting of the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka (NCCSL) in Colombo last week.

“There is absolutely no need to fear foreign investors entering the market. Look at how Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia have developed their economies. Encouraging foreign investors to come in and invest in mega businesses has brought in new technology, employment and foreign currency to the country,” he said.

The premier made these comments to counter views of certain sections in the business community who have been vociferous against moves to open up the flood gates for larger markets in the neighbor-hood to devour local industries.

Professionals were up in arms against the signing of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Singapore last week, saying it would have adverse consequences on local industries. They said that there should be wide consultation and debate prior to embarking on such a move.

However, the premier went on to say that the FTA with Singapore will have tremendous benefits to the economy bringing in investments in new technology and employment generation.

“The visit of the Indonesian president and a business delegation from Japan which is expected shortly will all pave the way for business opportunities that we need to exploit,” the Premier said.

He said the shift in the global economy is tremendous. There is development in China, ASEAN, Indian and the Iranian economies are growing at a rapid pace. All these are opportunities to expand trade and investments in a market that that exceeds 3.5 billion people.

“Iran, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam are major economies. When I was the minister of industries the Vietnam premier inquired as to how we expaned our economy. Today Vietnam has grown leaps and bounds. We were a thriving economy in the 1950s and 60s but the government that came after it destroyed the economy till the late 1970s,” the Premier said.

Recalling the initiatives undertaken by the then UNP-led government in setting up Free Trade Zones (FTZ), the Premier said local industries wouldn’t have gone to the international market if not for those FTZs.

“We had a white elephant in the Hambantota port which is being turned around by negotiating a new investment deal with China. We have earned additional US$ 600 million from the agreement. Today we have some of the best holiday chains in the country. A memorandum of understanding with 4 Seasons will be signed soon to revamp the GOH with the Bank of Ceylon,” the Premier said.

Plans are also afoot according to the Prime Minister to set up a development finance bank.

Sujeiva Samaraweera who was elected president of the National Chamber for a second term, said clarity and confidence are essential components to drive businesses and boost economic growth. To take the economy forward.

“The economy did well in the past years despite the drought to record over four percent growth. The chamber commends the effort taken to formulate a national export strategy to drive exports. However, the dearth of workers for key sectors such as construction, tourism and plantations is a major hindrance to develop those sectors and accelerate economic growth,” Samaraweera said.