Country in a Political Limbo with Wait and See Mindset – Exporters’ Chairman Harin de Silva

July, 16, 2018

Sri Lanka as a whole seems to be in political limbo with a wait and see mindset, whilst communal unrest seems to be making its presence felt yet again with the communal violence that erupted in Theldeniya in March this year, country’s Exporters' Association Chairman Harin de Silva stressed addressing the association’s 21st Annual General Meeting last Friday, calling the state to wake up and implement actions that could be delivered.

He further pointed out that daily demonstrations on the streets of Colombo continues to cause great inconvenience to the daily life of the people and businesses, and a looming trade war between the United States and China will not help Sri Lankan exports which are currently struggling to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

Following is his Full Speech at the event.

Address by the Chairman Exporters’ Association of Sri Lanka

At the 21st Annual General Meeting of Exporters Association of Sri lanka held on 13th July 2018 at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, Colombo

Our Chief Guest this evening, Mr. Rajendra Thegarajah, Chairman The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce & Managing Director CEO Cargills Bank Limited, distinguished invitees, committee members, members of the EASL, members of the media, Ladies and gentlemen.

Good evening.

Before I proceed I would like to thank the Management Committee of the EASL for the confidence they have placed in me by electing me as the Chairman of the EASL for a 2nd term.

Sri Lanka’s export fraternities hopes of working with a government who was focused on bringing about good governance and usher in a new era for Sri Lankan exports has not panned out as we had hoped.

Time and again the EASL has stressed the importance and need for a strong and positive political will and vision to drive the export sector of our country to reach its full potential. But sadly it seems that our pleas have been in vain.

The country as a whole seems to be in political limbo with a wait and see mindset. Communal unrest seems to be making its presence felt yet again with the communal violence that erupted in Theldeniya in March this year. Daily demonstrations on the streets of Colombo continues to cause great inconvenience to the daily life of the people and businesses.

A looming trade war between the United States and China will not help Sri Lankan exports which are currently struggling to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

The EASL has always been extremely vocal in requesting incumbent governments to include the association in its endeavors to shape export policy through a public – private sector partnership.

Early last year the government of Sri Lanka extended the EASL an opportunity to be a member of  the core team that have now concluded the formulation the National Export Strategy or (NES) for Sri Lanka.

The NES is spearheaded by The Export Development Board (EDB) and was empowered by the Sri Lanka Export development Act to prepare a National Export strategy for the next five years. It is a collaborative effort between the state sector and the private sectors to provide a detailed and prioritized five-year action-oriented framework for the development of trade and competitiveness particularly for the benefit of the SME sector in Sri Lanka. The strategy provides a clear direction for sustainable export-led growth in specific sectors to make Sri Lanka a key trade hub in the Indian Ocean.

This gesture has not only highlighted the government’s willingness to work with a reputed stake holder from the export sector it has also gone a long way in making sure that the government realizes the importance of a public – private sector partnership in shaping the future of Sri Lanka’s export policy. The NES document is now completed and is scheduled to be launched by the Prime Minister himself at an official launch to be held at Temple Tress on Thursday the 19th of July. The success of this document will depend entirely on the political will & ability of the incumbent government to drive the National Exports Strategy. It is absolutely imperative that either his Excellency the president or the Honorable Prime Minister personally oversees the implementation process of the recommended policies in the NES. The private sector cannot be called upon to drive this on behalf of the government.

Over the past 2 years the EASL on our own have developed 2 documents under the title Recommendations for a National Export Strategy. Subsequent committees set about identifying cross cutting issues at a macro level via extensive consultations with our membership & stake holder in the export fraternity along with economist who specialize in the field of exports. This year is no different and we have proceeded to develop our 3rd document. As we have done with the first two documents we hope to share this third document with policy makers in the current government. We have also decided to take it a step further this year and have made plans to share our 3rd document with all political and interested parties who are concerned with the developments of exports out of Sri Lanka which is something that we did not do with the first two documents.

Each of these 3 documents address the most critical issues challenging the export fraternity in Sri Lanka that need to be addressed at the highest levels of government.

Our third document focuses on 5 main points that are currently essential in formulating the foundations for the growth of Sri Lankan exports. I will briefly take you through these points.

  1. Driving the National Exports Strategy
  • The government must ensure that a predictable and transparent policy and regulatory framework is in place to promote trade competitiveness. This will go a long way in achieving the five-year detailed plan of action and implementation of the management framework proposed by NES.
  • The establishment of an institutional framework for effective public and private sector coordination for the execution of these plans of action and pro–business orientation of Government agencies.
  • Updating regulatory framework by the way of incorporating amendments to outdated legislation and bringing in new regulations to suit the requirements of modern trading practices.
  1. Improving the investment climate for exports
  • Digitising the Land Bank in Sri Lanka - a key difficulty for both foreign and local investors is the availability of data concerning the availability of land for investment purposes. While steps are being taken to implement the digitisation of the land bank, it will need to be expedited to ensure that this does not continue to be a key drawback for investment.
  • Improve Sri Lanka’s ranking on the Ease of Doing Business index
  • Introduction of a scheme similar to the Export Development and Investment Support Scheme (EDISS) that was introduced in the 1980s taking into account the current developments and the tax framework. This is for the promotion and development of both traditional and non-traditional exports with a focus on both value addition and the service oriented exports.
  • Policy initiatives should be driven to encourage investments by addressing the increasing labour shortages for many industries.
  1. Addressing Constraints for Market Access and Promotion
  • Develop an export promotion portal by leveraging on existing institutional set up of the Government and the private sectors to provide up to date market information on opportunities available in strategic export markets for Sri Lanka.
  • Addressing quality infrastructure deficiencies to resolve compliance issues and promote market access potential of exports.
  • Country branding initiatives to be coordinated and complimented with a supportive trade finance regime.
  1. Proactive Engagement in Trade Liberalisation
  • Develop a structured mechanism with a robust communication strategy for obtaining timely feedback from the export sector stakeholders concerning ongoing FTA negotiations, especially on offensive interests.
  • Develop a trade adjustment package in consultation with the relevant stakeholders.
  • Prioritize the establishment of a National Single Window (NSW), under Sri Lanka’s TFA commitments to gain trade facilitation efficiencies which has the potential to bring substantial cost savings and predictability for traders.


  1. Fostering Innovation to drive exports
  • Convert the current Coordinating Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation (COSTI) to the National Science Technology and Innovation Coordinating Authority (NASTICA) where the focus will be on commercial ventures.
  • The implementation of this strategy will need to be dynamic with a strong institutional framework for effective public and private sector coordination. The success of the strategy will be on re-orienting the present mind set in research institutions.

In conclusion I would like to go on record and state that transparency, Accountability and Implementation is what the EASL is requesting from the current and future government and policymakers. These expectations are paramount in taking the above recommendations forward and ensuring that initiatives such as the National Single Window, Trade Information Portal and the revision of the Customs Ordinance will bring the desired benefits to the export industry of Sri Lanka.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the managing committee of the EASL especially my vice chairmen Chrisso & Imdadh and the core group of members namely Fazal Mushin, Talal Shums & Lakshan Algama who have been absolute pillars of strength to me to conduct the administration and the day to day running of the EASL and of course planning out tonight’s activities. The past chairs namely Mrs. Dawn Austin, Mrs. Nirmali Samaratunga, Deepal and Mr. Muzamil who have never been short of good advice on whatever matter that I have consulted them on. To our secretaries Manori & Ushani for their great support behind the scenes. A big thank you to our sponsors without whose generous sponsorships none of this would have been possible. Last but not least a big thank you to Cinnamon Grand for the arrangements tonight.

Thank you all for taking the time to be present with us this evening and I look forward to a couple of drinks with you later on this evening.

Thank you.

Good night.