Given the current shortage of labour, Sri Lanka needs policies aligned to increase skilled labour availability and to get these segment employed in export related industries, according to President of the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka (NCCSL), Sujeeve Samaraweera. Speaking at the NCCSL’s 59th AGM in Colombo recently in the presence of the [...]

Business Times

Sri Lanka urged to develop a “National Trade Policy”


Given the current shortage of labour, Sri Lanka needs policies aligned to increase skilled labour availability and to get these segment employed in export related industries, according to President of the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka (NCCSL), Sujeeve Samaraweera.

Sujeeve Samaraweera

Speaking at the NCCSL’s 59th AGM in Colombo recently in the presence of the chief guest Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, he said that it is important to instill a change in the attitudes of the younger society to get into skilled jobs, as social acceptance for these jobs is at a minimum level. The government, private sector and media in this country at large have a great national responsibility to make this transformation happening.

He said a recent labour demand survey carried out by the Census and Statistics department reveals that while 497,000 jobs are available, 380,000 are unemployed. Of the jobs available, 177,000 are needed by the service sector, about 110,000 in trading, 20,000 on construction, 10,000 in tourism and 3,000 in plantations.
Shortages of skilled labour continue to be a hindrance across many businesses in manufacturing and services in Sri Lanka. The NCCSL statistics also show a shortfall in all the industries.

Mr. Samaraweera spoke on many issues. Here are excerpts:

“For the country to transit to a more robust, competitive, and globally integrated economy and create better-paying private-sector jobs, we need to distribute the benefits of the country’s growth to all citizens and increase female labour force participation through education. Boosting green growth, improving environmental management, and mitigating natural disasters and the effect of climate change is also a priority.

Just as in many other economies the main driving force of the economy here is SMEs. Approximately 75 per cent of the enterprises in the country can be classified as SMEs and they provide approximately 40 per cent of the employment in the country in diversified sectors ensuring inclusive growth. Many SMEs do not use latest technology and having limited access to finance due to collaterals not being available. Further, SMEs are not directly connected to markets especially in the case of exports.

It is a prime requirement today to support small and medium enterprises, and we must not forget start-ups and micro businesses, they will eventually grow bigger. The chambers together with government development agencies and financial institutions should have a common development strategy for micro, small and medium entrepreneurs. We should continue to encourage entrepreneurship in this country.

SMEs are facing many difficulties and challenges in accessing international markets. It is an internationally accepted norm that policy level corrections are needed to ensure SMEs enter and continue to be in international trade. SMEs find it difficult to deal with regulatory processes associated with trading goods across borders.
Exports are very critical for an economy to progress. Initial steps have been taken by the authorities to prepare the National Export Strategy (NES) for Sri Lanka as a joint effort of public and private sector consultative process under the patronage of the Prime Minister. It is of utmost importance that the NES should be implemented as early as possible. We also feel that it should be revived at regular intervals enabling to bring in timely changes.

Supporting the export industries by way of encouraging investments, offering attractive terms to acquire latest technology, encouraging them to invest in patents and branding in overseas markets, ensuring internationally accepted quality infrastructure and quality certification systems within the country are vital for the developments of the sector.
It is vital to keep the cost of production as low as possible so that our products would be competitive in the international market especially when competing with Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Vietnam and Myanmar, etc. It is a known fact that our utilities such as water and electricity are higher in price in the region. India through their Foreign Trade Policy is supporting the export oriented manufacturing and services in an extensive manner and Malaysia is also doing the same to boost and encourage exports. We should look at these examples, analyse and should take constructive steps to improve our economy.

Since Sri Lanka is negotiating many free trade agreements (FTAs) at the moment with larger and stronger economies, such as India, China and Singapore, the Cabinet has granted approval to go ahead with the Singapore FTA. The NCCSL stresses the absolute necessity to have a National Trade Policy for Sri Lanka which will govern and provide directions for any trade agreements to be signed by Sri Lanka with any other country.

India has a well defined Foreign Trade Policy which is updated every five years, where the current policy statement is applicable for the period 2015 to 2020. This document provides a framework agenda for exports and imports of India for the specified time period, aligned with the vision of “Made in India” of the Indian government to support both manufacturing and services sectors.

We have stressed in recent years in the background of Sri Lanka entering into three FTAs with very strong economies, in the near future, it is vital to implement anti-dumping regulations  in Sri Lanka. In other words a common mechanism to protect our domestic industries from unfair trade practices is an absolute necessity. Most of the emerging economies like India, Brazil and China are already practicing anti-dumping measures to protect their local industries. Over the past decade, China and India have rapidly increased their use of anti-dumping laws, the world’s most dominant form of trade protectionism, against their trading partners.

Gender equality and women empowerment plays a key role in 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Positive signs are visible in number of women in decent employment and taking further steps to narrow these gaps are considered vital. Many women continue to work as family workers and informal workers with limited access to social protection mechanisms.

The NCCSL firmly believes and is committed to support women engagement in business and entrepreneurship. In fact this chamber had the first female president of a chamber in Sri Lanka. It is our belief that women can seriously contribute to the economic development of this country much more than they contribute at present.”

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