US investors said that Sri Lanka's economy has great scope for growth and they wish to invest in that growth said Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the United States, Jaliya Wickramasuriya in an interview with the Business and Finance of the Sunday Observer.
Excerpts of the interview
Q: What progress has been made on trade between Sri Lanka and the United States?
A:The United States is our number one export market. They imported Sri Lankan goods worth $ 2150m last year. During the first quarter of 2012, Sri Lanka's exports to USA increased 30 percent compared to the corresponding period in 2011. We expect this level of trade to continue.
Sri Lankan goods such as garments,tea, rubber products, gems and jewellery are regarded as high quality. Importers here are well-accustomed to doing business with Sri Lanka and our trade ties are long-standing. The key now is to build on that. For instance while the US is regarded as a coffee-drinking country, tea is becoming popular. The US is increasingly becoming a health-conscious country,so it's not surprising that tea consumption is growing. We need to move aggressively into this market, increasing the export volume to the US, while maintaining high quality.
Q: What about doing business with some of the heavier industries? We keep reading about the sale of Boeing aircraft to Sri Lankan Airlines. How is this sort of trade developing?
A: It is my understanding that Boeing and Sri Lankan Airlines are negotiating the terms of some Boeing 777s, and negotiations are progressing.
Boeing is a very influential company in the U.S. and in Washington. Each 777 aircraft means the employment of about 7,000 people here. Hence more sales for Boeing will help the US economy in terms of employment opportunities. There are other important equipment manufacturers who are seriously considering the Sri Lankan market in a major way. Caterpillar
makes earth-moving equipment and tractors. There is a lot of roadwork and other construction taking place in Sri Lanka, especially in the North.They are interested on that level.
John Deere is another US company that makes farm equipment. Our expanding agricultural base in the North has created interest among them. The Electro Motor Diesel, a company which makes railroad engines and equipment is also becoming a trading partner. It is owned by Caterpillar and it is hoping to become a major participant in the renovation of Sri Lanka's rail lines and rail service.
Q: Can you elaborate on trade and investment promotion by the embassy?
A: The embassy has launched a campaign to promote US investment in Sri Lanka. We have been working with the office of the U.S Trade Representative,the US Commerce Department and the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC to promote Sri Lanka as a trade and investment destination.
The US Trade Representative's Office had a campaign last year titled 'Make Sri Lanka Your Next Business Stop!'
Apart from these efforts, I have had frequent meetings with US Corporate leaders. We have also had several functions at my residence that are designed to introduce professionals to Sri Lanka as a business and travel destination. We take part in major travel shows here in the US and we promote Sri Lanka as a business destination in cultural programs. For many Americans, those gatherings open the door to Sri Lanka and they want to learn more. We are here to help them learn and explore the
possibilities. Beyond our traditional trade groups, such as garments, rubber and tea, we think there is ample room for growth in tourism, high technology manufacturing, agriculture and the energy sector.
Q: What about energy? Sri Lanka is exploring for offshore oil and ad new refinery is planned . Are US companies interested?
A: We have had quite a bit of interest from energy companies. I think they recognise Sri Lanka as an economy that has a great deal of growth ahead and they want to invest now to position themselves to take part in that growth. They are interested in our exploration efforts and refining capacity.
Overall, Sri Lanka is an attractive investment for the West. Our economic fundamentals are very strong, with a good, steady GDP growth around 8 percent, low unemployment and inflation.
The recent US $ 1b sovereign bond issue that drew strong international support was oversubscribed by seven and a half times showing international investor-confidence. I think our track record on national security is proved.
Having eliminated terrorism, disputes are now resolved through the political process, as befitting democracy.
I also think that people give us quiet credit for the way the Sri Lankan Government has handled the post-conflict challenges. We have resettled nearly everyone. We have helped more than 11,000 ex-LTTE combatants to be reintegrated with society through job training and education.
We have helped child soldiers to be reunited with their families.
Of course the LLRC's work has had a substantial impact on opinions here in the US. US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton herself said two years ago, that a domestic review process is the most effective method of resolving internal conflict.
After External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris's recent visit, the US State Department called the Sri Lankan Government's approach to the LLRC recommendations a "strong" one.
Q: What about the Sri Lankan diaspora in the US. We read a lot about activists in the diaspora. How cohesive is the Sri Lankan community?
A: A lot has changed since the conflict ended. I don't think everyone holds a universal view of things, but the general sentiment among all Sri Lankans living in the US is hope for continued peace and reconciliation at home.
A few people still continue to make wild allegations that would be quickly challenged by facts in Sri Lanka. But here the facts are not so readily available, so they get away with it - for a time, anyway.
One group has even hired a Washington lobbying firm to lobby in Congress against the Sri Lankan Government.
But most Sri Lankans are not taken in by these gestures,especially those who have traveled back to Sri Lanka to see things for themselves.
As I meet with the Sri Lankan community groups throughout the US, I can't tell you how many people have approached me and told me how amazed they were at the progress they saw on trips back home. Some say they never thought they would be able to see their childhood homes again or ever be able to visit Jaffna.
Now they go there and businesses are thriving, people are happy, there is peace. The threat of violence is gone.
These people come back to the US and tell the true story of Sri Lanka. And that is what we do at the embassy. That is our mission. I am constantly urging people to go to Sri Lanka to see for themselves the progress that has been made as seeing is believing.