Financial Times

East needs capacity building to absorb investments, says Sri Lankan diaspora

By Dilshani Samaraweera

The war-recovering Eastern Province needs capacity building to absorb foreign investments for export industries, says the Sri Lankan diaspora. Sri Lanka’s battered Eastern Province is now open to investors and the government is hoping to do the same with the North.

The Board of Investment (BOI) of Sri Lanka has already announced special incentive packages to attract investments into the East. However, absorbing investments, particularly through local partnerships, is not going to be that easy. In addition to killing thousands and destroying basic infrastructure required by businesses to operate, the nearly 30 years of conflict has also cut off the North and East from global market changes and destroyed skills needed to re-start export oriented businesses.

“The people need international market information and product development skills. They need to be informed about the procedures, quality standards and certification requirements in export markets,” said Jeremy Liyanage, a Sri Lankan based in Australia representing a group of potential ‘diaspora investors’, at the BizPact Invest in Sri Lanka Symposium, organised by the Business for Peace Alliance (BPA), a network of regional business chambers this week. The symposium was organised to attract foreign investments into the regions, including the war-recovering Eastern Province. The Sri Lankan diaspora scattered around the world was targeted as potential investors in the war-recovery process of the country.

However, the Sri Lankan diaspora noted that local human resources development is required for successful partnerships. Market information, marketing skills and product development skills are seen as urgently needed to develop export industries in the East and also in other peripheral regions.
“Things sold in the ’70 and ‘80s will no longer sell in international markets. Producing the same thing other local exporters are producing is also no good, because it will just put the new producer in competition with the existing ones. So product design, new product development and marketing support, are needed for export sectors to be developed,” said Mr Liyanage.

Although the regional chambers of commerce are keen to attract investments and regional small and medium business are open to partnerships with foreign investors, poor business communication skills is seen as a obstacle.

“Businesses need to be able to communicate with the outside world. For this they need English. They must also be able to write a simple business proposal and respond to inquiries via email or otherwise,” pointed out Ms Susan Joachim from Germany. Corruption and government red tape is seen as another major obstacle to attracting investments. Land acquisition in particular is seen as a daunting task given the number of approvals required.

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