16th September 2001

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Business opportunities from First Asean Intl

First Asian International Ltd, a UK company is offering businesses in Sri Lanka, a cost effective solution to enter and expand into the lucrative European market, a press release on its behalf from the World Trade Centre, said.

The company says it can offer Sri Lankan companies a spectrum of services through a wide range of relationships which have been forged in the UK with government and non- government bodies such as Natwest Bank, Barclays Bank, World Pay Ltd, AON, Business Link Advisors and many other service providers.

An informative seminar about its services would be held on September 20 at the Colombo Hilton, featuring experts in the latest developments in Europe of e-commerce technology and law, marketing, tax and finance.

Stars join hands on Sept 19 to promote peace in Sri Lanka

Top personalities have pledged their support to SriLankaFirst, an apolitical initiative by the key business sectors of Sri Lanka seeking peace in the country, a press release from the organisers said.

Personalities like Susanthika Jayasinghe, Sunil Perera, Sanath Jayasuriya, A.T. Ariyaratne, Julian Bolling, Sangeetha Weerarathne, Bhathiya & Santhush, Dav Whatmore, Gamini Fonseka and Russel Arnold have pledged their support to the cause of SriLankaFirst, and promised to join hands on 19 September at 11.55 a.m. to express their solidarity with the cause.

The initiative is aimed at galvanising public support for the resumption of peace talks. Institutions that have already come forward to support this cause include Sarvodaya, PAFFREL and MARGA.

The peace organisation was launched on September 5.

Japan fosters long-term ties

Goodwill ambassadors perform laudable service to eradicate poverty

Twenty years have passed since the first batch of Japanese Overseas Corporation Volunteers (JOCV) first arrived in Sri Lanka. Last week the organisation celebrated its 20th anniversary at the BMICH amongst a distinguished gathering of Japanese nationals and close Sri Lankan associates and other invitees, who came to pay glowing tributes and accolades to these goodwill ambassadors from Japan.

These volunteers who are experts in their respective fields are aptly described as goodwill ambassadors, because of their unstinted and untiring work done at grassroots level and for the service done to the local community.

Japan has also been the major donor country to Sri Lanka since 1977.

The Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) is responsible for implementation of the Official Development Assistance programme on behalf of the Japanese government. JICA has been implementing bilateral assistance in the form of Grant Aid programmes, Technical Co-operation Volunteers, loan programmes and dispatch of Japan Overseas Co-operation Volunteers (JOCV). JICA carries out its programmes on a government to government basis.

Upto now the Japanese government has dispatched 519 JOCV members to Sri Lanka. At present there are 39 of them all over the island. Although initially the JOCV was assigned predominantly to the agricultural and fisheries projects, over the years this trend has changed gradually in keeping with the changes of the economic structure.

With the ever growing need for information technology and human resource development, Sri Lanka requests more highly technical expertise.

Therefore, more than half of the volunteers at present are assigned to educational and vocational training projects.

Pre-dispatch training

Prior to their departure from Japan, successful applicants undergo around 80 days of residential training as probationary volunteers. The aim of this training is to improve their ability to adopt to life and work at their postings. They cover subjects such as understanding other cultures and the political, economic and living conditions in host countries as well as other aspects such as security concerns, health, physical and language training. In keeping with the global trend, technically qualified applicants are most sought-after for recruiting.

Volunteer engaged in social development activities

Ms. Nishi, JOCA member started work at the beginning of this year and is now attached to Badoowita in Attidiya doing community development work. This is a housing scheme where the slum dwellers from nearby areas have been resettled by the Land Reform Commission with a two-perch block given to each householder. This housing scheme has its own Community Development Committee that overlooks the welfare of the residents. Nishi is involved with the Refuse Waste Collecting Project that collects around 2,000 kg of various kinds of waste paper which is sold for recycling and the money is put back to the committee. She is a key link between the committee and the Mount Lavinia Municipal Council and other state agencies and she works as the spokesperson for the committee. Besides this, she visits each and every household advising them on keeping the environment clean, and how best they should co-operate with the refuse project. She advises them on proper health care and schooling for children, etc. She is actively involved with the pre-school programme that is carried out in the scheme.

Volunteer in educational activity

Mr. Satoshi Nakagawa is the Western Music Advisor to the Ministry of Education and now based at the National Institute of Education in Maharagama, in the Western Music Department which comes under the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, assisted by the government of Japan.

He started work here two years ago. Usually a volunteer is contracted for a period of two years only, but in the case of Nakagawa whose technical expertise contribution has been so invaluable, his term has been extended by the Japanese government. His colleagues in the ministry described him as a very resourceful person. He also sometimes conducts the National Youth Orchestra, and is the consultant to the Sri Lanka Navy band. He trains western music teachers from government schools on methods of teaching, covering a wide range of instruments like wind, string, and brass. They are taught how to perform, and sing and are also given voice training.

Mr. Makoto Kage-yama, JOCV member, is the ceramic instructor attached to the Ceramic Training Centre in Dediyawala in the Kalutara District which was established four years ago.

This centre offers three main facilities with priority training for potters. It also offers higher study courses in pottery done according to Japanese techniques and lend equipment and machinery for a nominal rate to those who want to make a living out of pottery until they become self sufficient. Kageyama provides creative ideas, technology, technical guidance and advises on how to use machinery invented by him. This centre is again assisted by the government of Japan.

Mr. Gayan Satyajith, provided with a six-month scholarship to Japan for further intensive training in pottery, is a young and enthusiastic man who is determined to establish a ceramic society. A graduate from the Institute of Aesthetic Studies, University of Kelaniya, he had followed the two-year higher study course in pottery at this ceramic training centre. Classes are held during the weekends, and at the end of the first year the students are awarded a Certificate of Completion in general ceramics.

At the end of the second year they became fully qualified potters specialising in throwing, glaze preparation, clay making and firing technology - all done according to Japanese technology.

JOCV members help to foster long lasting friendships between Japan and Sri Lanka. Their contribution towards elevating the standards of the poor local community and the urban poor of densely populated areas is unparalleled.

While working as the link between the community and officials they try to bridge the communication gap between the low-income communities and government officials.

Dankotuwa Porcelain - trail blazing the industry

By Sonali Siriwardena

We arrive at the Dankotuwa Porcelain Ltd (DPL) factory in mid-morning after a two-hour drive from Colombo. Situated comfortably away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the factory has a spacious garden lined by a row of shady trees. A cooling breeze welcomes us as we enter the compound. This location at Dankotuwa has housed the factory since its inception in 1984, when it was first established as a government venture. And though the administration has changed hands over the years, the factory's location remains the same - an inherently area-oriented venture, which is also true of its 900-strong workforce, a majority of whom are residents of the area.

We begin our tour of the factory with a stop at the stores, housing the plenitude of raw materials used to create the clay mixture that's distinct to Dankotuwa Porcelain. "65% of our raw material is local but the bulk in terms of value are the imported compounds," explains Mr. Kitsiri Wijesundara, Chief Executive Officer. Although relatively new to the company, he proves to be an enthusiastic guide. We enter the forming area where the raw material is mixed and formed after which it is cut into elongated rolls of clay. The process by which the clay is manually cut into blocks by a skillful clean sweep is fascinating to watch. The workers give us amused smiles, as we stand transfixed, half wishing to have a go at it ourselves.

The clay, ashy white in colour, is then cast into different moulds to take the form of various pieces of crockery such as plates and platters in the Casting Department. It is then ready for the first firing at the Biscuit Kiln, where the items are fired for a 48-hour period at temperatures of 850c. The number of firings needed for a particular design or item plays a defining role in determining the price of the finished product, for each layer of design requires an individual firing. So the more intricate the ornamentation, the more number of firings it requires - hence the greater price.

"The items are then dried and undergo a check for cracks and other defects after which they are sent to the Glazing Department," explains Mr. Wijesundara.

It is at the Glazing Dept. that the raw whiteness of the porcelain is enhanced to take on the 'Dankotuwa White' body - which is regarded as a benchmark for whiteness among tableware manufacturers.

This white body with an 89% reading of whiteness, developed by DPL a few years ago illustrates the company's passion for the beauty of white porcelain. But what about the burgeoning new market for brighter and bolder colours? "We do use other colours if an order specifies it but our speciality continues to be white porcelain ware," responds Mr. Wijesundara.

We move on, admiring the skill with which a worker swiftly soaks a foot-long rice platter into a large basin full of seemingly white paint, only to deftly lift it a second later so that the item is covered by an even coat. "These are inherent skills which cannot be taught overnight," he says.

This process is followed by a second visit to the burning furnace (not by us but by the porcelain) a heat of 1200 to1300c. "This is called Gloss or Decorated Firing and is generally regarded as the final firing but it would depend on the design of each item," says Mr. Wijesundarara.

Export Manager, Mr. J.M.N. Fernandopulle joins us in our tour as we cautiously hurry along, warily avoiding contact with the precariously placed porcelain ware. As we move along the rows of workers engaged in hand painting white glazed cups, Mr. Fernandopulle tells me that the dark brown liquid used for painting actually takes on a gold hue after a single firing. "The liquid comprises 12% gold and our work in gold come in two forms - hand drawings and printing." DPL manufactures both the prints and the casts used for its porcelain ware.

With six main collections such as Masterpieces, Limited Edition, Regency and Sakura, the range of designs available under each collection varies according to the orders given by clients, says company chairman Mr. Sunil Wijesinghe.

"There is a high diversification of designs but it is dependent on the demand for new designs by the export market, which comprises 80% of our clientele," he said.

From its humble beginnings almost two decades ago, Dankotuwa Porcelain has now become a front-runner in the porcelain industry with an impressive list of international clientele like Macy's and Ralph Lauren. And the most recent addition being the Walt Disney Company who has commissioned Dankotuwa to make a special commemorative plate for its 100th anniversary celebration this year.

The Disney audit carries with it stringent measures which its contributing companies must adhere to. Among the commitments include standards relating to child labour, non-discrimination and health and safety of employees. The code of conduct for manufacturers refers to regulations that require conforming to laws on the environment and those governing pricing and distribution of merchandise.

"We have already brought ourselves to meet these requirements and are presently finalising the agreement," says Mr. Wijesundara. With Bangladesh as their main competitor in the international market, DPL exudes confidence over its future prospects, as an Asian leader in the industry.

Ceylon chamber's second annual biz convention

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce is holding its second annual business convention on the theme "E-Biz The economy transformed" at the Oberoi hotel in Colombo on October 5 and 6.

The keynote addresses at the convention, the second since 2000, will be delivered by Sri Lanka's M.V.Mushin, vice president and chief information officer of the World Bank, on the topic, "Bridging the digital divide" and by Sanjay Kumar, president and CEO of Computer Associates, USA, on "Global e-business".

Deva Rodrigo, deputy chairman of the chamber, said the convention would be an excellent forum for an exchange of ideas and networking at all levels. The chamber successfully conducted its first convention last year on a "vision for business 2010."

The range of speakers, presenters and rapporteurs comprises the cream of Sri Lanka's business community like Bank of Ceylon's Ken Balendra, Singer's Hemaka Amarasuriya, John Keells' Vivendra Lintotawela, Commercial Bank's Mahendra Amarasuriya, NDB's Ranjit Fernando, Ceylon Chamber's Chandra Jayaratne and Millennium's Tony Weerasinghe among others.

Professor Lakshman Watawala is chairman of the convention sub-committee assisted by other committee members Deva Rodrigo, Charitha Ratwatte, Cubby Wijesinghe and Faizal Salieh.

Commercial Bank wins international award

"The Banker", one of the most prestigious publications serving the international banking community, has rated the Commercial Bank of Ceylon Ltd as "The bank of the year" in Sri Lanka, for 2001.

The London-based monthly, which is circulated worldwide, has selected Commercial Bank on the basis of its performance and growth in terms of tier - 1 capital, growth in assets and return on equity.

The Banker magazine is published by Financial Times Business Ltd, of UK, and is targeted at CEOs and senior managers of global companies, a Commercial Bank press release said.

stretching gloves production in Sri Lanka

By Dr. L.M.K. Tillekeratne Director, Rubber Research Institute (RRI) of Sri Lanka

Thin walled rubber items such as examination and surgical gloves, balloons, condoms, cot sheets and bathing caps, etc. are made out of concentrated latex produced by centrifuging field latex. In addition to these, concentrated latex is used in the manufacture of foam cushions and mattresses and also for the manufacture of elastic thread, catheter tubes, etc.

With the spreading of AIDS in the USA and in European countries, the demand for examination and surgical gloves increased to an unexpected level in the mid 1980's. According to US regulations, in order to avoid the spread of diseases transmitted through blood, doctors examining patients must wear a fresh pair of gloves per patient. Similarly laboratory workers and nurses should wear gloves while handling patients and blood samples to avoid the spread of such diseases. It was reported that in making examination and surgical gloves, natural rubber is the best source because thin films of natural rubber give a better tensile strength and elongation. Apart from these, NR (natural rubber) based examination gloves are comfortable for doctors, which is why even surgeons today use mainly natural rubber based surgical gloves in operating theatres.

In some developed countries, two pairs of rubber gloves must be kept in the cubbyhole of the vehicle for the purpose of handling bleeding victims in case of an accident. Some supermarkets in the USA and in Canada demand the use of a pair of rubber gloves per customer - sold at a very small price at the entrance to the store - before the customer handles fruits, vegetables, meat, etc.

With the unexpected and sudden demand created in the 1980's, all the rubber producing countries got involved in the manufacture of examination and surgical gloves in a big way. The manufacture of NR latex-based gloves, specially of surgical and examination types, are beneficial to NR producing countries because 95 percent of the material used in making these two kinds of gloves is natural rubber while only less than 5 percent of the raw materials are imported chemicals used in the vulcanization process.

But in any other rubber article manufactured by compression moulding using dry rubber such as tyres, motor vehicle components, household items and garden equipment, close to 50 of the raw materials used are fillers, activators, accelerators, reinforcing agents, sulphur, etc, imported to the country.

labour intensive

Further, the labour involvement in surgical and examination gloves manufacture is quite high compared to the manufacture of other products because each and every pair of gloves has to be inflated and tested for leaks manually. In countries like Malaysia, even disabled people are employed in this work.

Sri Lanka, which began the manufacture of household gloves over 15 years ago, is today one of the major gloves producing countries in the world. At present while the largest surgical and examination gloves factory is situated in Sri Lanka, there are three other factories making examination gloves to the world market.

The latex-based dipped products industry is the fastest growing rubber products industry in the country. Last year, nearly 24 percent of our national NR production (23,000 tonnes) had been converted into gloves thereby earning over Rs. 5.2 billion as national income. According to expected expansion programmes of dipped products manufacture in the country, 35,000 tonnes of rubber are needed for the manufacture of gloves in Sri Lanka by 2005 - without new ventures opened during this period.

There are 22 latex concentration factories already in Sri Lanka with 58 centrifuging machines. In most of them Alpha Level 510 machines of capacity 2,500 kg of dry latex production per day are in operation. Hence, roughly the total installed capacity of centrifugal latex in the country is about 30,000 tonnes per year.

Allergic reactions

Recently, there was a big campaign in the west and the US that NR based gloves when used continuously may cause an allergy which can even cause death for some people. Although this has not been detected in other parts of the world in sufficiently acceptable levels, due to this possible danger and also owing to the requests made by the consumers in the developed countries, measures have now been taken to minimise the percentage of natural protein levels in the finished gloves by washing with chlorinated water or with detergents at slightly elevated temperatures.

Some even use double-centrifuged latex for this purpose to keep the protein levels down. Action has already been taken to technically specify and standardise examination and surgical gloves of Sri Lanka origin.

Tests for the standardisation of extractable protein levels is done by means of a costly colorimetric test method known as the BCA (Bi-cinchonic Acid)test. But now for the purpose of identifying the presence of allergic proteins in trace amounts in rubber products, the SDS-PAGE test is also used at very high cost.

In order to prevent tackiness of rubber products, dusting powders like talc and chalk are being used. But in surgical and examination gloves, the only anti-tacking powder allowed until recently was corn starch powder due to its absence from toxins. However, now the use of corn starch in gloves is also banned by many countries because it is believed that the tiny corn starch particles absorb leachable proteins from the rubber surface and then transmit them on to the human skin in the presence of sweat, thereby causing the allergy. Hence, what is most popular today is powder free gloves made non-tacky by chlorination or by washing with chlorine water.

Boosting exports

The total income gained to the country from the export of examination gloves per annum at present is US$ 35 million. However, it can be increased fourfold by converting them to surgical gloves by gamma radiation. By this means the extra income expected to benefit the country from the gloves business alone is US$ 105 million even without expanding present production levels. Further, it is well known that no commodities or rubber products of the type of examination and surgical gloves are permitted to the US after 2005 without sterilizing them by gamma radiation. It is thus essential for Sri Lanka to have a gamma radiator in the next four years if we are to maintain a high supply base and raise profits from this base.

At present Ansell Ltd, the only major gloves producer in Sri Lanka, has a gamma radiation unit which is not available to other producers.

MediaSolv designs PDA for Worldview

US-based MediaSolv and Colombo-based Worldview International Foundation (WIF) have announced a partnership to design and implement the Village PDA, a comprehensive end-to-end solution that will help bridge the "digital divide".

PDA (personal digital assistant) is a term for any small mobile hand-held device that provides computing and information storage and retrieval capabilities for personal or business use, often for keeping schedule calendars and address book information handy.

A MediaSolv statement said Worldview had engaged MediaSolv to develop the technology for a pilot project that will be the basis for implementation on a larger scale.

At the heart of the Village PDA solution, is a low cost PDA that is based on MediaSolv's ETHER chip technology. These devices will cost end-users as little as $25 each and provide connectivity via Bluetooth with basic functionality that includes real time access and management of e-mail, calendar, contacts and instant messaging. The Village PDA will also access news and other content that could be personalised by the user and customised by the service provider.

Founded in 1979, WIF is a unique development organisation with hands-on experience, knowledge and the capacity to cover the entire gamut of communication and media activities for development. MediaSolv is a private US corporation with staff in the US, Sri Lanka and Singapore.

Happiness flasks attain ISO standards

"The Happiness range of plastic vacuum flasks is ISO 9002 quality assured and is also available with the SLSI mark," said Azad Mansoor, the managing partner of Mansooriya A and S Associates. It is not only the outer appearance; it is the inner refill that is important. Mercury is used to coat the surface of a vacuum flask. The consumption of mercury could be harmful and have long-term effects as well, he said.

Mansoor said Happiness flasks have a welded inner refill and is assured by quality standards. Mansooriya A and S Associates are the distributors for the Happiness range of vacuum flasks and have been in the market for seven years.

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