National trade policy a top priority for Chamber, says NCC President | Sunday Observer

National trade policy a top priority for Chamber, says NCC President

Sujeiva Samaraweera
Sujeiva Samaraweera

Opportune time to look beyond our borders while developing local industries

The labour market and the resources available should be used to create new export opportunities

Mechanism to protect domestic industries from unfair trade practices vital

The country needs a paradigm shift to regain losses suffered during the 30 year conflict and to look at the world at large. We can be positive that our resources and capabilities can transform Sri Lanka into one of the best economic hubs in South Asia. Our entrepreneurs should think big, and there is absolutely no reason for us to under-estimate our capabilities, President National Chamber of Commerce (NCC), Sujeiva Samaraweera told the Business Observer in an interview.

“Now is the opportune time for us to look beyond our boundaries while developing our local industries. We should be able to enhance our country’s image in the international business arena to gain global recognition as an economic hub,” he said.

Excerpts:

What are the key priorities that your Chamber needs to address to further its agenda?

A. The need for a National Trade Policy is the top priority to further its agenda as many countries are interested in signing bilateral trade agreements. It is of paramount importance that we as a Chamber formulate a National Trade Policy to facilitate trade negotiation.

The necessity of having a National Trade Policy for the country could be explained as follows:

In recent years, the Government has responded very positively by  introducing the Anti-Dumping Act in Sri Lanka. With the background of  Sri Lanka entering into three Free Trade Agreements with very strong  economies, in the near future, it is vital to implement anti-dumping  regulations in Sri Lanka.    

Sri Lanka is negotiating many preferential - free trade agreements at the moment with larger and stronger economies, such as India, China and Singapore.

The National Chamber is stressing the fact that it is an absolute necessity to have a National Trade Policy for Sri Lanka which will govern and provide direction to trade agreements to be signed by Sri Lanka with any other country.

It is worth mentioning that India has a well defined Foreign Trade Policy which is updated every five years where the current policy statement is applicable to the period 2015 to 2020. This document provides a framework for exports and imports of India for the specified time period, keeping aligned with the vision of “Made in India” of the Indian government to support both manufacturing and service sectors.

In simple terms, trade facilitation can be recognised as making it simpler and efficient for traders to move their goods across borders.

The Doing Business Index of the World Bank is also taking ‘Trading Across Borders’ as a significant evaluation criterion in ranking countries. Under this category, the time taken to export with regard to documentation and border compliance, cost of exports in compliance with documentation and border procedures, importation time and cost related to border procedures and documentation are taken for detailed evaluation. This confirms the importance of cross border trading at every level.

With regard to the importance of trade facilitation, on May 31, 2016 the Sri Lankan government ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). It came into effect in February 2017. In April 2016, a Cabinet nod was given to establish the National Trade Facilitation Committee chaired by the director general of the Sri Lanka Customs and the director general of the Department of Commerce as co-chair.

The government sector and private sector are well represented on this committee ensuring a well bonded Public Private Partnership, in achieving the ultimate goal of implementing the TFA in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan government also requested the support of the World Bank Group for the development and implementation of a web based Trade Information Portal, to develop the blueprint of the National Single Window operation.

It is with a positive note that we mention the movement has taken every possible step in trade facilitating for the business community.

The necessity of having anti-dumping and countervailing measures in Sri Lanka to protect local industries should be stressed.

In recent years, the Government has responded very positively by introducing the Anti-Dumping Act in Sri Lanka. With the background of Sri Lanka entering into three Free Trade Agreements with very strong economies, in the near future, it is vital to implement anti-dumping regulations in Sri Lanka.

In other words a common mechanism to protect our domestic industries from unfair trade practices is an absolute necessity. Most of the emerging economies such as India, Brazil and China are already practicing anti-dumping measures with the view of protecting their local industries. Over the past decade, China and India have rapidly increased their use of anti-dumping laws, the world’s most dominant form of trade protectionism, against their trading partners.

How have you gained commitment from your team?

A. The strength of the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka is the membership represented by various fields in business. We conduct regular meetings with members to support them in their day-to-day business activities and provide them with the necessary contacts in order to improve their businesses.

We also have a dynamic team of people headed by the Secretary General and handling all aspects of coordination and business development. The quality and experience of staff members have helped immensely in business development activities. We were able to achieve great heights during the past 70 (seventy) years due to the commitment of our team.

Is the regulatory environment in the country supporting the opportunities for entrepreneurs today?

A. Regulations are a ‘must’ to maintain discipline in any business activity. A regulatory frame work is of vital importance towards safe-guarding the interests of the business community and eventually the consumer.

A regulatory environment will lead to a level-playing field in order that all entrepreneurs compete in a fair manner. Some of the regulations imposed by the government could hinder business opportunities outside Sri Lanka, especially Free Trade Investments (FTIs). The regulatory frame-work in the country should be restructured to suit the current business environment.

Is it hard to be optimistic about growth in industries when you look at where the world is today?

A. Unfortunately Sri Lanka has gone through a very difficult period for the last 30 years and our country needs a paradigm shift to cover the losses. Looking at the world at large and comparing our situation with our neighbouring countries we can be positive that our resources and capabilities can transform Sri Lanka into one of the best economic hubs in the South Asian region. Our entrepreneurs should think big. There is absolutely no reason for us to under-estimate our capabilities. This is the most opportune time for us to look beyond our boundaries whilst developing our local industries. We should then be able to enhance our country’s image in the international business arena.

How much can business and the private sector do to really drive change?

A. Since 1977 we have been enjoying Open Economic Policies. We have transformed ourselves to the present position from a much inward looking economic policy.

This shows the changes and the drive the private sector rendered to our country. The government is responsible for the economic policy and the driver of the economy is always the private sector. If you look at the traditional export basket of tea, rubber and coconut, we have expanded ourselves beyond these limits by exporting our knowledge to many top world economies.

What are the immediate steps the government should take to tackle GDP growth?

A. We are satisfied with the steps the government has taken to date. The measures taken by the government to encourage the export sector in order to tackle GDP growth has become successful to some extent.

We should also look at the labour market and the resources available in Sri Lanka to create new export opportunities.

Today the world needs a technology based solution and Sri Lanka is in the forefront of providing such services world wide. Many of these enterprises earn US dollars and the profits are remitted to Colombo providing an opportunity to the Sri Lankan Government to provide the stimulus to tackle GDP growth.

How could the Chamber members support government’s plans?

A. We as a Chamber have been supportive of the good decisions taken by the government to facilitate the business environment.

Our main role as a Chamber is to bring the buyer and the seller together and also assist the government to formulate the economic plans of the country.

Our members engage in different fields of activities and support the government in achieving the required economic targets of the country.

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