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The Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade (MODSIT) together with the USAID-SAIL project hosted a Public-Private Dialogue (PPD) on Global Trade for businessman in the Kandy District on Friday 23rd August 2019 at Hotel Suisse in Kandy. The event, titled, “Kandy in the Global Economy – How can the district maximize benefits and minimize risks?”, was the second in a series of district-level PPDs being held to increase the general awareness and understanding of trade, and obtain the views of wider and more representative groups of stakeholders across the country.

The event was the first to be held outside Colombo and generated vibrant debates and discussions among over 120 participants from Ministries, government agencies, the business community, trade chambers, the private sector and other key stakeholders.

The resource personnel were led by USAID-SAIL Trade Expert Dr. Sanath Jayanetti, who spoke on “Kandy in the Global Economy - How can the District Maximize Benefits and Minimize Risks”. He was followed by Mr. Premathilake Jayakodi - Deputy Director - Department of Commerce, who spoke on Certificate of Origin, Assistance for the exporters through commercial attaches abroad and the Trade Information Portal.

Mr. Lal Weerakoon - Superintendent of Customs, Department of Customs elaborated on “New Initiatives at Customs” and Mr. Heshan Mathugamage, Assistant Registrar, Registrar of Companies explained the progress of “EROC (e-Registration of Companies) project” and his role as the Official Receiver. Each presentation was followed by a questions and answers session.

There was a special segment in the programme to listen to a ‘Success Story’ and Mr. Sagara Ranga Liyanage, Chairman, Earth Bound Creations (Pvt) Ltd described his journey from humble beginnings to an industry leader, transforming waste products into useful household items.

Gracing the occasion were Guest of Honour, Mr. Reed Aeschliman, Mission Director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for Sri Lanka and Maldives, Mr Brian Wittnebel Deputy Director - Economic Growth Division USAID; Hon. Malik Samarawickrema, Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade (MODSIT), Mr. Sisira Kodikara, Secretary MODSIT and Mr. Glenn Mackenzie-Frazer, Chief of Party, USAID-SAIL Project.

Delivering the keynote address, Minister Samarawickrema, stated, “International trade is a priority area of our Government and, as you know, our Ministry has been a catalyst for many trade reforms over the past few years. Our Government has taken numerous initiatives to re-orient the economy, and make Sri Lanka a respected and formidable player in the Asian region once again.

The focus of the government is to shift the economic growth model from one that was heavily dependent on debt-fuelled public infrastructure spending, to growth driven more by private enterprises, exports, and foreign direct investment.

Attracting foreign investment is a key priority of the country right now, and this is where a lot of our policy initiatives are being undertaken.

“We have embarked on a path of cutting para-tariffs within 3 years; and already more than 1,200 items have been done. In Parliament last year we passed long overdue trade remedies legislations that provide protection to our enterprises against unfair competition and undue pressure from imports.”

“We have done new FTAs, like the landmark one with Singapore, and several more - with India, China and Thailand - in the pipeline. And finally, we have the new Trade Adjustment Programme and the Trade and Productivity Commission that were approved recently.”

In that spirit, today’s event is very welcome. It aims to provide useful insights and guidance to you in the private sector and also get your observations and views. I am especially delighted to note that it is taking place in the historic district of Kandy which happens to be my adopted home town. The Kandy District is known to be a key player in the trade sector of Sri Lanka’s economy.

USAID launched the four-year SAIL project in October 2016 to support economic reforms and promote Foreign Direct Investment in Sri Lanka.  SAIL provides policy and institutional support to improve the business enabling environment and promote investment in Sri Lanka.

One of SAIL’s focus areas is to support Sri Lanka’s processes of trade integration and facilitation, including support to the free trade agreement process.  Trade plays a key role in increasing Sri Lanka’s growth, and an export-oriented strategy is important in achieving this goal.

“The U.S.-Sri Lanka development and humanitarian assistance dates back to 1956.  Since then the U.S. Government’s development agency, the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, has invested more than 320 billion Sri Lankan rupees (USD 2 billion) in grant aid not loans, “noted Guest of Honour, Reed Aeschliman.

“This assistance has benefitted Sri Lankans across the country and in diverse fields like agriculture, environment and natural resources, infrastructure, business development, health, education, governance and humanitarian assistance.”

“As a representative of the U.S. Government and the American people, I am proud to see the U.S. partnering in such initiatives to increase awareness and understanding of trade benefits and agreements and discuss with relevant stakeholders potential trade barriers. “

“Most importantly, I am proud that such initiatives are supporting Sri Lanka’s continued progress, ensuring the delivery of socio-economic benefits to all its citizens, and contributing to this island nation’s achievement of self-reliance. To put it another way, we are working with Sri Lanka to take decisions on its own development.  Our objective is to foster a stable, resilient, prosperous, inclusive, and self-reliant country,” added Aeschliman.

Minister Samarawickrema had a special message for the private sector.

“The economy has to be driven by the private sector, and that too by a private sector that is willing and able to compete internationally. We are a small domestic market, and we have no option but to integrate strongly with the global economy. But of course, we want to be sure to give our industry, our private sector, the best possible chance to succeed, by providing the right policy environment, strategies, supportive programs and instruments, and timely information,” he said.

“All these initiatives are aimed at reorienting our economy to be more trade-driven, and integrating more with the global economy. Let’s be clear and pragmatic – this is the only way to usher in prosperity for our country and create more and better jobs.”

“Thank you also to USAID and the American people for continuing to invest in enhancing Sri Lanka’s trade capacity, and supporting sustainable job creation through various programmes throughout the years,” concluded Minister Samarawickrema.

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