* Jewels Exhibition with 50,000 local participants and 250 foreign buyers to position Sri Lanka as gem hub
* Sustainable plans and strict licensing to protect environment
By Uditha Jayasinghe
Aiming to profit from all things that shine, Sri Lanka’s gem and jewellery industry is aiming to earn a record US$ 600 million this year and build the country as a gem trading hub.
National Gem and Jewellery Authority Chairman Prasad Galhena outlined ambitious plans for the industry at the launch of the Jewels Exhibition recently and insisted that there is capacity to reach US$ 1 billion by 2016.
During the first half of this year earnings reached US$ 297 million despite the lacklustre global economy, raising hopes that 2012 can hit a new high. In 2011 Sri Lanka’s gem and jewellery industry earned US$ 520 million, which is a 28.85 per cent increase from 2010.
“We are very optimistic that we can hit US$ 1 billion well ahead of the Government’s timeline. However, our aim should be to convert Sri Lanka into a jewellery hub much like Singapore. For this, we have to attract international brands into the country and encourage local entrepreneurs to build Sri Lankan brands,” he said.
Galhena went on to explain that the Jewels Exhibition, which was started last year, would be held in December, to help further this goal.
It is targeted at small and medium jewellery producers who need exposure to take their designs international.
An estimated 50,000 businesses are expected to participate and already around 250 foreign participants have signed up from a variety of countries.
“We have had very positive responses. Even though we have hosted ‘Facets’ for a long time, it focuses more on gems, and we felt the need to focus on jewellery production to increase earnings. Despite the long history of jewellery production in Sri Lanka, the bulk of our exports are still cut and uncut gems, with the value additions coming from other countries. There is also much potential to profit from the burgeoning tourism industry. ”
Jewels will be held from 6-9 December at the BMICH under tight security following the Chinese gem swallowing incident.
In the long-term, the gem industry needs to increase its value additions but it also needs to become more sustainable, opined Environment Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa. He told reporters that the authority had closed down over 200 illegal mines operating without permits this year and that they would refrain from granting licences to gem deposits discovered in environmentally-sensitive areas.
Responding to questions, the Minister noted that recent gem discoveries in the Chandrika Tank would not be explored as it was an ecologically sensitive area. “Gems were recovered when water receded due to the drought. However, rains have resumed in the area, making it difficult to conduct any mining. Moreover, the area is under the Mahaweli Authority and therefore we cannot give mining permits,” he remarked.