The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce called for a new economic model focused on export-led investment and tourism, and facilitating the private sector as the engine of growth to build a sustainable business environment, at the recent India-Sri Lanka Business Summit in Colombo.
The event brought together key figures, including Dinesh Gunawardena, Prime Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs of the Government of India, Gopal Bagley, High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka, and the Chairman of The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Duminda Hulangamuwa. President Designate of the Confederation of Indian Industry Sanjiv Puri, and President, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Subhrakant Panda, were among the eminent participants at the Summit.
Expressing appreciation for the role played by the Government of India during Sri Lanka’s financial crisis last year, Hulangamuwa however stressed that Sri Lanka must not indefinitely rely on bilateral support from regional countries. Highlighting the necessity of building a sustainable business environment, he emphasized the importance of an export-led investment approach to ensure the country’s economic growth and stability.
He highlighted the potential for increased trade with India, especially as the world’s economic focus shifts towards South Asia. ‘In areas such as tourism and export of goods, there remains ample opportunity for our exports. The negotiating team of the India-Sri Lanka FTA who are currently in Sri Lanka whom I met yesterday are here to understand how the basket of goods can be increased from Sri Lanka to India and vise versa and more importantly understand how the FTA can be extended to the provision of services’ he added.
The Ceylon Chamber’s sentiments were welcomed by Nirmala Sitharaman, who expressed enthusiasm for strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries. She urged Sri Lanka to explore new avenues for economic sustainability and growth, highlighting the energy and pharmaceutical sectors as among the high-growth potential sectors. She also stressed the significant role that digitalization played in India’s economic landscape, highlighting that Sri Lanka could leverage similar benefits including ensuring greater transparency, efficiency and inclusivity that would deliver sustainable benefits, by embracing digitalization.
The Vice Chairman of the Ceylon Chamber Krishan Balendra also emphasized the importance of tourism as the low-hanging fruit and a short-term solution to increase foreign exchange earnings. ‘Outbound tourism from India is growing exponentially and Sri Lanka has a big opportunity to tap this as a neighbour. The two Governments should appoint a high level committee to look at ways to increase Indian tourism to Sri Lanka especially to improve air connectivity and reduce flight costs. Colombo should be like a domestic destination for Indian travelers. Travel costs and ease of travel should be similar to a domestic destination’, he stated.
Industry leaders echoed the Ceylon Chamber’s views on pursuing an export-led strategy. Chairman of MAS Holdings Mahesh Amalean and CEO of Brandix Apparel Ltd., Ashroff Omar urged the need to open up the Indian market further for exports from Sri Lanka, in particular the need to increase the quota on garments to India. Such a measure would contribute greatly to promoting bilateral trade and deliver benefits to both countries, they added.