While India and China are competing to stamp their strategic presence in Sri Lanka, the government is asking private business from the two countries to unite to form joint ventures in the country’s growing maritime industry.
Strategic Enterprise Management Agency Chairman Dr. Willie Gamage attempted to lay to rest Indian and Chinese strategic concerns with regard to the other’s involvement in Sri Lanka’s ports sector. The two countries our involved in developing two ports in Sri Lanka, one in the South which has already commenced operations, and another in the North.
Both India and China have been vying for strategic presence in the post-conflict economy, with India accusing China of trying to include Sri Lanka in its ‘string of pearls’, a strategic sea route for fuel from the Middle East.
"The government of Sri Lanka is neutral on who could utilise and be involved in the use of our ports, and we would be delighted to see if a Chinese and an Indian company involved in the logistics management and shipping side can come together to do a joint venture here in Sri Lanka, where the trade between these two giant trading partners could get facilitated via Sri Lanka," Dr. Gamage said.
"It is an obvious fit and a very lucrative opportunity for India and China. The door is wide open and we would welcome them both and other nations too, to take advantage of our geographic position," he said.
Dr. Gamage made these comments at the recently concluded ‘Sri Lanka Ports, Trade and Logistics’ conference jointly organised by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority and Seatrade.
He said that the country’s state-owned enterprises had the potential to significantly increase shipping volumes in the years ahead.
"To illustrate this point, I will show what just one institution of the combined 48 institutions under my purview has in terms of export cargo for a year. The Mineral Sands Corporation ships annually 60,000 tonnes of limonite, and we need 2,400 containers to send it out. Now imagine, when we increase our production in the next five years to 240,000 tonnes, we would account for 9,000 of containers for export shipments each year. This is the kind of volume state owned enterprises generate here in Sri Lanka,"Dr. Gamage said.
The SLPA has already invested US$ 3 billion on port related infrastructure development activities with another US$ 5 billion being sought from the private sector well before 2015. A further US$ 15 billion is being sought entirely from the private sector to develop a modern, port city in Colombo, with the government planning to spend US$ 900 million on basic infrastructure on 243 acres of land reclaimed from the sea opposite the Galle Face.
Earlier this year the government announced that a group of private investors led by Beijing based Sino-Sri Lanka Rich Investment was planning to invest US$ 50 billion over ten years on the Hambantota Trade City Project. The funds would come from Hong Kong, Singapore and the US.
A global maritime expert said Sri Lanka was at the heart of the global maritime industry.
Noboru Ueda, Chairman & President, Class NK, Japan, gave an outside view and assessment from the world’s largest classification society of Sri Lanka’s unique position, talking about the importance of emerging hubs in the Indian Ocean.
After more than 40 years in the maritime sector, Ueda said he had witnessed many changes in the industry, citing the great shift from West to East of shipping and shipbuilding and the huge rise in Asian shipbuilding and more recently ship owning.
"The next great shift in our industry is already taking place. The rise of the Southeast Asian, South Asian and Middle Eastern players and their growing importance in the world maritime industry. It is this shift from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans driven eras of the past and present, to a new Indian ocean driven era that we are fast approaching"
"At the heart of this new maritime region, and at the heart of world trade, is Sri Lanka. I believe Sri Lanka could easily emerge as the new great maritime nation; joining the ranks with Singapore and the UAE as a leader in the maritime world," Ueda said.