A fresh start for Sri Lankan business | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

A fresh start for Sri Lankan business

7 June, 2020

It is clear that the extent of damage coronavirus has caused the entire world is mind boggling. Plenty of things were discussed in the world media during the past four months about the negative effects of the pandemic.

However, despite the colossal destruction, it offers unparalleled opportunities to us in terms of international trade and in the native business environment. Right now, not only Sri Lanka but also most other countries in the world are preparing to address the big question: How to recover and get their respective economies running.

The big question is that do we take the country back to where it was before the pandemic or redesign to be better. The decision is entirely ours to move forward with the opportunities that are likely to be opened or ignored as we have done several times in the recent past. The virus has suddenly changed the context of the world at large. It has given us daring possibilities to advance in any direction we choose. This is an incredible freedom for the country.

It is predominantly the decision of the President and the Government to decide what type of economic policies the country needs in terms of economy. President Rajapaksa has pledged a people centric economy with very effective and pragmatic proposals, mostly based on development of agriculture and native productions. The President has touched almost everything in this regard, in his economic policy statement. However, new post Covid 19 openings, locally and internationally, can assist his efforts more, if he and the Government decide to redesign. 

Since the outbreak, we see much more domestic representation in the markets and the economy, particularly in the Asian region. This current crisis has accelerated new trends such as digitalisation, technology, healthcare and so forth. In Sri Lanka this domestic awakening is clear with the willingness of business fraternity to invest in native production, largely due to the Government’s encouragement.

Practical measures

Let us investigate what practical measures companies can be taken to discern, exploit and shape the post pandemic reality. Businesses anywhere in the world tend to become prejudiced and insular when under threat. The key concern is what action to be taken without a clear knowledge about the consequence.

The opportunities are often born out of new consumer needs, hence learning about such needs are vital.  As the crisis still prevails, consumers themselves are not explicitly aware of their upcoming needs.

 Therefore, to understand the level of opportunity, companies need to look more deeply how social behaviour are shifting. For an example, if workers feel more comfortable working remotely, it can make a significant impact on office furniture, home remodeling and office equipment as well as electronic devices. Such behaviour obviously creates opportunities for relative businesses.

The world will look different from what it was although the magnitude cannot be calculated as yet. Despite the pronouncements about working from home, the trend is yet to be identified. One certain thing is that e-commerce, e-payments, e-learning and e-health consultation seems to be in an upward trend.

Many Sri Lankan larger players in banking, consumer marketing, health service and education service are already accelerating their efforts to be in the forefront of this trend. As for them, this is a strong future opportunity.

So far as domestic manufacturing is concerned, Sri Lankan entrepreneurs involved in manufacturing will have an unmatchable opportunity to establish themselves against the country’s dominating imported products. This phenomenon was triggered by the President’s emphasis on the importance of promoting indigenous manufacturing. Ban of many imported items and restrictions imposed on others is a positive sign that the future is bright for local manufacturing.

It was a shocking revelation that Sri Lanka is importing approximately 70% of its domestic requirements of consumer durables and nondurables including certain food related products. Due to Covid-19 these figures turned into common knowledge. We import countless products which can easily be manufactured locally and save foreign reserves. Consumers are also accustomed to give priority to a  majority of these imported products neglecting locally manufactured substitutes.

Sri Lanka has an unlimited potential to export scores of products other than traditional tea, rubber and coconut. The present shift in political thinking helps these exports tremendously, if a proper order is introduced. For the past many decades, appropriate attention to this major opportunity was not given by the respective Governments. During the past two decades, Sri Lanka was enormously dependent on imports, particularly from China.


With more focus on segregation, value addition, brand building and upgrading the quality of products will be the required edge for our exports in the world arena. This is the time to aggressively market our spices which is known as the best in the world. The Export Development Board has identified several sectors where markets can be found. Apart from apparel, which is likely to take time to recover, the EDB has identified coconut and related products, floriculture, fruit and vegetables; IT related industries and seafood. Spices probably will have one of the best chances in exports.

Sri Lanka’s knowledge industry will also have a huge opening in post Covid-19 markets. Social distancing and remote working will trigger a substantial demand for online operations. The knowledge based skills can be digitised in every field and can be delivered to the world. Computer literate youth will have a considerably large gateway to use their skills. As we know, many of the world’s most successful knowledge service companies are already operating in the country. These companies currently are supplying software solutions to top stock exchanges, airlines, retailers, accounting companies and banks.

The impact of the virus has made people around the world shift more towards online transactions for many of the needs including medical, educational, retailing and many others. As Sri Lanka is known to have quality and qualified professionals, a large opportunity seems to be available in the future for this industry. However, the Government has to be more attentive and support growth of this important sector by offering assistance to source talent, cutting unnecessary red tape and by implementing friendly regulations.

Despite the negative impact of the coronavirus, the crisis presents many new opportunities for Sri Lanka. Due to the effects of the situation, Sri Lanka’s usually smart business fraternity has come out with additional interest and eagerness by way of new thinking to make the best. Many of the corporates, large companies and SMEs have openly expressed their willingness to invest and develop various domestic and export oriented sectors. It is the responsibility of Government agencies to strip-away bureaucracy and traditional public service thinking and aggressively promote Sri Lankan exports and knowledge service sectors while developing native manufacturing to substitute unwanted imported non-essentials.