February 22, 2013, 7:21 pm
As bilateral trade volumes crossed ten-fold growth in 2102, Iraq, the biggest Pure Ceylon Tea user in the world, wants to import more products and boost trade with Sri Lanka. "We want to increase imports from Sri Lanka, especially Ceylon Tea. We need to take new initiatives to develop our bilateral trade. It is time to set up direct air-links between Baghdad and Colombo," said Kheer- allah Hassan babaker Muhammad, Iraqi Minister of Trade on 21 February, as quoted by a press communiqué issued by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
The Iraqi Minister was addressing Rishad Bathiudeen, Minister of Industry and Commerce of Sri Lanka during a Ministerial level meeting between both Ministers on 21 February at the Trade Ministry in Baghdad. Minister Bathiudeen was leading a trade and trade delegation consisting of Lankan exporters, Department of Commerce Officials and Tea Research Institute officials to Baghdad, arriving in the city on the mornings of 21 February. Also present was Sumith Nakandala, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Iraq.
According to the Department of Commerce of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka’s trade with Iraq has been increasing over the past several years. The value of total trade between the two countries, which stood at US $ 8.72 Mn in 2003, has increased tenfold to US $ 87.28 Mn in 2012.The balance of trade has been in favour of Sri Lanka during the last ten years. In 2012, Iraq became the fifth largest buyer of Sri Lankan tea after Russia, Iran, Syria and Turkey, absorbing $ 83 Mn tea from Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is the single largest tea supplying country to Iraq, claiming 60% of Iraqi tea imports in 2012 and almost 91% in 2011. However, Iraq is fifth largest Ceylon Tea buyer only in terms of Lanka’s direct exports to Iraq.
"When considering Ceylon Tea purchases by Iraq not only from Sri Lanka in direct but even Ceylon Tea coming to Iraq via Afghanisthan, Iran and other Middle East contries, we believe that our country (Iraq) is the leading buyer with an estimate exceeding more than $ 70 Mn annually" Iraqi Minister Hassan stressed.
"Time has come to go beyond current bilateral trade of $ 87 Mn and we thinks that establishing direct – air links between us will be a promising step towards this" Minister Hassan said:
Responding to Iraqi Trade Minister Hassan, Minister Bathiudeen said: "I too fully endorse that we need to take new initiatives to boost trade between Sri Lanka and Iraq, the historic friends. Iraqi markets should know about Sri Lanka beyond just the Pure Ceylon Tea supplier label. We supply the bulk of Ceylon Tea used in Iraq but we want to diversify our exports basket. I believe that the planned next Joint Economic / Trade Sessions as well as Baghdad International Trade Fair to be held in November this year, to which we plan to send a strong delegation, can renew our trade ties beyond current levels."
In the coming days, Minister Bathiudeen is also scheduled to conduct B2B style promotional meetings with Iraqi private sector to boost business links.