Invest Northern Ireland (Invest NI), an initiative of UK regional business development agency, with the assistance of the from UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) at the British High Commission in Colombo returned to the country for a second time this year with seven Northern Irish companies to meet with existing and prospective business partners, solidifying their interest in doing business in Sri Lanka.
Speaking to the Daily FT at an event held at the Westminster House earlier this week, Invest Northern Ireland International Trade and Investment for South, West and Central Asian Markets Regional Director Barry Clarke explained that with the UK now going through challenging times, they are now exploring markets that they would have not considered before.
“The UK has gone through challenging times and we are bringing companies to markets that they would have never considered coming to before and they are looking for relatively English speaking regions so we had the choice of America, which is not it good shape, Australia, which is quite a distance away and is a small market in many ways so now we are looking at India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan and the Gulf region,” he explained.
The UK now has a different attitude to global markets because it has to find business to help deal with climbing out of the recession it currently is in; it therefore has to look for new markets and Invest NI are a part of that.
Invest NI plays a vital role in improving the Northern Ireland economy through a number of measures, by internationalising their indigenous companies, both large companies and SMEs. On the trade side, the organisation also looks at attracting investment from international markets to diversify the Irish economy.
In this line, Invest NI developed a developed a policy last year of reaching out to the wider market in South Asia and looked at Sri Lanka as it’s emerging with a very growing economy, in a sense similar to Ireland, noted Clarke.
“Sri Lanka and Ireland are rather similar. We are small and we are emerging from an unusual past, I don’t think Sri Lanka is like India at all. The Sri Lankan way of doing business is more like the Gulf region of the Middle East, like large trading companies. The fact is that we have done quicker business in Sri Lanka than we have in India,” he stated.
“We were very particular about the kind of investors we brought to this market. We had a look at the Sri Lankan market and saw that you need capacity building, training at both leadership level and help people build sales and marketing skills and we looked at the medical diagnostics market as well as the dairy industry, so we looked at the market and brought in companies that fitted the opportunities.”
The trade delegation that came down this time around consisted of seven companies, namely Asphalt Burner Services – development and service of asphalt burners; CIGA Healthcare – self-diagnostic products; Full Circle Management – consultancy services; Greenfields Ireland – dairy products; Mallaghan Engineering – airport handling equipment; McCloskey – recycling machinery and RockRoland – business consultancy services.
Clarke emphasised on the fact that Invest NI is here to do business which will in turn help create employment in Northern Ireland. A clear message for their clients here is that they look at collaborative agreements and mutual benefit.
In fact, a client Invest NI brought on their initial visit to Sri Lanka in April of this year, BRC (Bill Roy Consulting) Partnership, a consultancy based in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland launched BRC Lanka – a leadership and management development company this month and held a workshop earlier this week in collaboration with a local partner, teaching 80 people on how to do sales and marketing in Europe – a clear indication of the potential of such partnerships. “We are also working with larger training companies and they very interested and are talking to our suppliers and looking at working with them exclusively and that’s fine, what we do is to introduce clients to them. We are looking at the training sector, education, engineering and one of our clients is looking for military business as well and that’s the supply of uniforms because this particular company specialises in supplying armed forces around the world,” Clarke added.
He observed that Sri Lanka’s business sector is quite sophisticated and people know what they want, which in turn helps Invest NI bring the right companies to the market.
Clarke went on to say that the numbers they have seen in Sri Lanka are astounding with over eight per cent growth in GDP, 25 per cent IT growth and so on and admitted that the UK can only dream of achieving such figures and will not be able to do so for at least the next five to six years. However, he feels that Northern Ireland is climbing out of the economic downturn more quickly than some of the other regions in the UK.
“I’ve been in India for four years and it’s a more challenging market and I don’t know if it’s because they are culturally different or whether it is to do with more competition in the market but we made a decision that any time we come to Sri Lanka, we will start here and do India second. When developing markets, you have to give priority to new markets and that is what we have done with Sri Lanka. Very few organisations have come back twice in one year and we have been back twice in one year because we saw an opportunity and we want to follow it through and that’s why our guys our happy,” he said confidently.
Clarke revealed that he met the former chairman of SLASSCOM on his visit here to discuss the potential partnerships between Sri Lankan and Northern Ireland companies and to help Sri Lankan companies access markets in the UK and Europe by encouraging them to sell the potential of a Sri Lankan software company and services company.
He noted that the feedback from the Sri Lankan companies have been very positive which he attributed to the fact that Invest NI brought companies that really want to do business and the Sri Lankan companies want to do business as well as it is about mutual benefaction and both parties making money at the end of the day.
Invest NI currently uses Dubai as a hub to reach out to international markets in this region and has increased their footprint in Saudi Arabia and Dubai and has just moved into Kurdistan because they want to do new business there and are also exploring opportunities in Pakistan; some of those opportunities may be serviced through Sri Lanka or Dubai.
“Primarily because Sri Lanka has a much more loving relationship with Pakistan than India does,” Clarke said laughingly. “We look for ways as to how our companies can access markets and we are very good at that. It is good to see here a lot of people that we met before.”http://www.ft.lk/2011/11/24/invest-ni-to-tap-into-further-business-opportunities-in-sri-lanka/#more-57745