‘Lankans need to patronise local products and services’ | Sunday Observer

‘Lankans need to patronise local products and services’

The Sunday Observer Business Chat column features leading business personnel who express their views on their business.

Today, we feature Shiran Fernando CEO/ Director of the Tess Group of Companies, the largest canned fish producer and exporter in Sri Lanka. He is also the President of the Canned Fish Manufacturers’ Association and works hard to provide economic benefits to society, particularly the fishing community while positively contributing to the national development agenda of the Government.

He promotes local products and is of the view that all Sri Lankans need to encourage local industries in terms of patronising products and services and recognising their contribution for a better Sri Lanka.

The fisheries sector is one of the industries which can help develop the country and people quickly and yet sustain its position. As Sri Lanka owns a sea area 10 times the size of its land area, the resources available are vast.

The fishing industry could bring rapid development to the country by generating foreign exchange through exporting and providing much needed nutrition to the population and keeping the nation healthy by averting the high rate of anemia prevalent among them today. It is important to note that one in every three people is suffering from anemia and this is common among many children. Fish could be an ideal source to obtain the required nutrition.

Sri Lanka is surrounded by the sea. We need to have a well focused strategy to gain maximum advantage of this resource which could be our key economic driver in time to come if necessary and proper planning is in place.

As a country we import US $ 64 million worth of canned fish and this action needs careful evaluation and re-thinking. We could save valuable foreign exchange and generate employment if the required governmental support is given. It is a matter of prioritising our national agenda to protect and nurture local industries which could contribute greatly to the economy.

There are over 600,000 fishermen and a 1.5 million strong fishing community in the country. Their living standards could be uplifted by providing the necessary environment to continue their livelihood.

The Government needs to seriously look at facilities given to the canned fish importers which are detrimental to the local producers. For example, the Government reduced the import duty on canned fish from Rs. 102 to Rs. 52 and this was a big blow to the local canned fish manufacturers who were well set to meet the local needs.

There are four canned fish manufacturing factories and one factory has closed down due to intense competition from cheap imports mainly from China. This is an opportune time for the Government to consider curtailing imports from China as incidents such as the Corona virus too will have an impact on these types of imports. Most of these products are of inferior quality and Sri Lanka has become an easy dumping ground for these imports. The nutrition level of this product is also questionable as they have a long shelf life. On the contrary, the local products are canned within a day and they are more fresh and nutritious. The Canned Fish Manufactures Association, the voice of the local industry urges the Government to re-introduce the same import tax structure to enable the industry to make a come back and be a key economic driver of the country.

“We have the capacity to meet the entire local requirement provided we are given the Government backing. On average 150,000 cans of fish are consumed daily. We value the measures taken to purchase local canned fish for government institutions and this practice needs to be continued. The local canned fish industry uses 100 per cent locally sourced products, from fish to can and label and it’s economic value is more,” he said.

The Government needs to intervene in a situation where the local catch is not sufficient to meet the demand and it needs to take action to import the required quantity till the shortage is over. This will be a short time practice and the authorities should have proper control over this as otherwise it will negatively impact the fishery industry.

On the nutrition side, the UN says that nutrition level in people is low. The way to increase nutrition is through protein consumption. Fish is an ideal form of protein. Therefore, if necessary measures are taken to encourage fishermen to increase the catch and the excess to be given to the three canned factories, the country will have a reasonably priced source of protein. This will help address a social issue as well as create more economic activities that will have far reaching benefits to society.

The government must focus attention on this industry. This will not only save foreign exchange and provide much needed nutrition to the people, but will generate employment while uplifting the living standards of the fishing community which is a neglected social segment at present.

The Tess Group of Companies which has four subsidiaries, Tess (Pvt) Ltd, Tess Agro, Tropic Fishery and Tropic Frozen Foods Ltd has ventured in to diverse activities. The Tess company is the first EU registered factory in Sri Lanka. It also operates a cold chain and has the only long line vessel fleet in the country.

“We actively contribute to the national economy. We expect the Government to support us to sustain our efforts and to continue our ethical business,” he said.

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