Uniting Sri Lanka through entrepreneurship | Sunday Observer
Jaffna Trade Fair

Uniting Sri Lanka through entrepreneurship

23 January, 2022

The Jaffna Trade Fair for the year 2022 concludes today, having commenced on Friday, January 21.

Here is an interview with Aasim Mukthar, the Chief Executive Officer of the professional body, Lanka Exhibition and Conference Services (Pvt.), Limited (LECS) which organises exhibitions in Colombo and around Sri Lanka, including the Jaffna Trade Fair.

The LECS has made the Jaffna Trade Fair a consistent occurrence every year for the past 12 years with the exception of the recent vacuum on account of the Covid pandemic. The exhibition in Jaffna is organised in collaboration with the Yaarlpanam Chamber of Commerce.

In this interview he explains that the company prioritises unifying the country through local entrepreneurship promotion and is open to work with those who have such ideals, thus promoting local industry for peace building. Among the regions it has organised trade fairs so far include Jaffna, Batticaloa and Kandy while Galle is to be the next regional focus.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: Could you explain about the founding and subsequent journey of the Lanka Exhibition and Conference Services (LECS) within Sri Lanka to promote Sri Lankan industries and commerce and link Sri Lankans through trade?

A. ECS as we are commonly known started its operations in 2001. Since its inception the company has grown to be one of the leading exhibition organisers in Sri Lanka. The company has organised more than 100 trade fairs promoting Sri Lankan industries both small and medium. Most of our shows display local participation with the exception of a few. The company has invested heavily in taking the concept of a trade fair all around the country by organising exhibitions in Jaffna and Batticaloa to date. Founded by prominent businessmen, LECS established its identity as a trade facilitator for many industries in Sri Lanka. We have been consistent during many economic fluctuations and hope to continue this.

Q: What is the average collective turnover you have earned for Sri Lankan businesses through your company exhibitions/trade fairs 2001?

A. It is difficult to quantify as we don’t generally ask our exhibitors their sales amounts accrued through our events. I think having an 80 percent return rate of repeat exhibitors proves the success of our trade fairs. We are open to feedback and prioritise the promotion of the rural entrepreneur.

Q: Could you speak of the priorities of this year’s Jaffna Trade Fair and how it is different from the last 12 years, if at all, in terms of lessons learnt.

A. The biggest concern we have is the current pandemic that is taking place. Never have we felt anything like this in the past. The exhibition and trade events were the hardest hit among industries. We couldn’t do any shows for nearly 2 years. Even with the current permission to do the exhibitions and sales, it has been restricted, with lowered participating numbers and strict health guidelines. We have followed all rules put out by the health authorities and have scaled down the 2022 event by half. Yet, we believe the event will do justice to our original goal of having it.

Q: Is there a way that the stalls for the Northern smalltime traders exhibiting at the Jaffna Trade Fair could be made more affordable?

A. For the past 5 editions we have given free of charge to over 40 stalls to the Yarlpanam Chamber of Commerce to be re sold to Northern smalltime traders at a very much reduced rate. For much of the 12 years we carried out the Jaffna trade fair, we have worked closely with K. Poornachandran, the former head of the Yaarlpanam Chamber of Commerce and Industries and continue to work with the current representatives such as CEO Jurison Jenaraj, current Chairman Navaratnam Nantharupan, Vice Chairman, Kularatnam Vignesh and Director Stephen Leonard, amongst the other members.

We will continue with the same zest this year, except that it will be a reduced number of stalls amounting to 20.

Q: In the former exhibitions there were some cases where the Jaffna traders did not receive prominent locations for stalls while those from other locations got more exposure. Could this be rectified in any way to promote and showcase rural businesses of Jaffna through the Jaffna Trade Fair?

A. The Jaffna chamber pavilion is a separate pavilion on its own. It is located in a prominent area of the Jaffna Expo. At all times we strive to ensure that the people of the North benefit out of this initiative. This is the primary purpose why we are organising it.

We have worked well with the Yaarlpaanam Chamber of Commerce for 12 years and we have a very good understanding with them. We collect a feedback from them and hope to improve the trade experience for both the Jaffna small and medium traders and the visitor, both from the North and elsewhere.

So far we have received a very positive feedback where constructive suggestions have been made and we have tried to adhere to them.

Q: There is currently an initiative in Sri Lanka to use Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) for both national prosperity and national unity of all Sri Lankans, especially in the current economic context. How do you see your company supporting to organise a series of exhibitions across the country that will give prominence to traditional expertise, local heritage crafts and industries as a route to promoting unity?

A. We fully support promoting harmony among our cultures and yes we would be interested in organising any type of exhibition, especially those supporting this cause.

The continuous organising of exhibitions in the North, East and Western regions of Sri Lanka is part of the goal of linking Lankans through trade.

Our next target is to do a show in Galle which we are currently studying the feasibility and would most probably carry it out this year.

We believe that this current economic situation could be surmounted. We are doing the best that we can and we will support all initiatives coming within our purview to create a stable scenario across Sri Lanka.