Bas Van Noordenne, Netherland's deputy head of mission in Sri Lanka told a business forum that people still associate Sri Lanka with the separatist Tamil Tigers even after three years of ending the island's bloody civil war.
"Companies are still little bit hesitant to have direct trading contacts and investment opportunities in Sri Lanka," Noordenne said.
"It takes time to change the image of the country especially if you have known Sri Lanka only by the 30 year conflict and don’t know that it ended three years ago,"
"When I tell people in Netherlands that I work in Sri Lanka, the first thing they say are Tamil Tigers."
Noordenne was speaking at a Sri Lanka – Netherlands bilateral trade seminar organized by the National Chamber of Commerce.
Sri Lanka's military crushed Tamil Tiger separatists in May 2009 ending a three decade uprising in the island's north and east.
Ethnic tensions, three armed uprisings, terror attacks, deteriorating rule of law and human rights violations had dimmed Sri Lanka's growth prospects over the years.
Trade between Sri Lankan and the island's former colonial ruler, Netherlands amounted to 280 million US dollars in 2011 with Sri Lankan exports, mostly garments, tea, rubber and fish fetching 200 million dollars.
Dutch imports to Sri Lanka were mostly food and beverages, tobacco, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and machinery.
The Netherlands had also been among top five generating markets for tourism even during the conflict, though some other countries are growing faster.
Noordenne said Dutch investors were keen in investments and trade opportunities in horticulture, agro food production, water, vessel and dredging, energy, logistics and pharmaceuticals but the island's troubled image has kept them from seizing opportunities in Sri Lanka.
"It's important that Sri Lanka goes abroad and improve its image. This is not only in relation to the Netherlands, this also relates to other countries," Noordenne said.
"I was working in Columbia and the first thing people say is dangerous country, drugs and I'm not going there
"It took about five years to develop business interest in Columbia. I think it's the same here," he said."