Switzerland loops in Sri Lanka for international drive to eliminate inequality


The President of Switzerland Doris Leuthard with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the 47th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum held in Davos-Klosters Switzerland recently.

Microsoft chairman Jean Philippe Courtis (Second from right) with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe,Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure Minister Harin Fernando and Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake , during their meeting on the sidelines of the 47th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, held in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland recently.

by Zacki Jabbar
recently in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland

Switzerland has looped in many countries including Sri Lanka for its international drive to eliminate inequality among nations.

The Swiss President Doris Leuthard who held talks with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and a number of world leaders on the sidelines of the 47th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos-Klosters Switzerland recently, said that international cooperation and dialogue were the key to acheiving equality.

She also met with European Union leaders to discuss international energy, climate policy, migration issues and challenges in the field of peace and security.

An SRF discussion on ‘Strengthening Democracy’ and one of a series of Open Forum events on ‘Bridging Generational Differences’ were also held.The Open Forum series aims to motivate young people to play a greater part in the political process.

Hailing the Sri Lankan governments efforts to strengthen democracy , good governance and reconciliation in the post war era, President Leuthard said that Switzerland would do its utmost to assist the sustainable development programme "Powerful Sri Lanka", that had been launched by Premier Wickremesinghe.

She said that the Ayurveda system of medicine had caught on in Switzerland and there was ample scope for wide ranging cooperation.

The WEF Executive Chairman Professor Klaus Schwab commended Wickremesinghe's proposal to hold a Summit Meeting of European and Asian trade ministers next year. He said that they were prepared to assist in organising the event.

Convening under the theme" Responsive and Responsible Leadership", WEF focused on critical leadership challenges, strengthening global collaboration, revitalizing economic growth, reforming capitalism, preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and restoring a sense of shared identity.

Schwab said that responsive and responsible leadership had to include humanisation over robotisation." It is important to prioritise the public good over ones own interests."

Responsive meant leaders needed to listen and interact with those who had entrusted them with leadership and that it was also important to have values to show the direction,he noted."Sometimes it seems that the world is overwhelmed by pessimism and cynicism. But ,we have to look in a confident way into the future."

A record 3000 participants from 100 countries, including Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers ,government and business leaders, civil society members and journalists attended WEF. It was also the first time a Chinese leader participated at its Annual Meeting, with President Xi Jinping who delivered the inaugural address, leading the largest number of Ministers and officials from his country.

The Sri Lankan delegation included Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema, Minister of Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure Harin Fernando, Professor Maithree Wickremesinghe, Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva and Consul General to Switzerland Ravinath Ariyasinha, Secretary Saman Ekanayake, Additional Secretary Saman Athaudahetti and Personal Assistant Sandra Perera.

With the establishment of a Special Zone to manufacture quality drugs at affordable prices in the pipeline, the government is scheduled to pursue negotiations with Novartis, a global healthcare company based in Basel, Switzerland.

Novartis , with a 150-year history and a global supply chain that reaches one billion people in 155 countries, focuses on innovative patented medicines, generics and eye care devices.

Initial talks in this regard, between the Head of Global Public and Government Affairs at Novartis, Dr. Petra Laux and Premier Wickremesinghe were held on the sidelines of the Forum.

Dr. Laux said that it was convenient and cheaper to manufacture quality basic drugs locally, while the more complex ones could be produced internationally for the Sri Lankan market.

Wickremesinghe revealed that the government was committed to producing a range of pharmaceuticals locally, for which a Special Zone would be established.

Informed sources said that follow up meetings with Norvotis, would be led by Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema and Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne, who had in the recent past implemented several measures to provide affordable health care.

Other international drug manufacturing companies interested in investing in Sri Lanka, are also expected to participate in the discussions.

During the Annual Meeting, a country profile on Sri Lanka created by WEF, was presented on wide screen at a special session to the delegation led by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and clarifications sought on investment opportunities, including some reports on the recent protests organised by the Sri Lanka Peoples Front, against the proposed Chinese funded Hambantota Industrial Zone (HIZ).

Wickremesinghe in reply said that some information on the demonstrations obtained by WEF, were based on exaggerated reports filed by certain journalists and did not convey the exact position.

Pointing out that protests were part of the democratic tradition, he said that disinformation had led to the belief that the HIZ was inimical to Sri Lanka's interests, but that was not so, since China had pledged to attract investments totaling USD 5 billion within the next five years, which would also result in over a 100,000 jobs being created.

The Prime Minister informed WEF that the relevant Ministries will be available and ready to provide any further information and clarifications that would be investors required.He, also held talks with the Executive Chairman of WEF, Klaus Schwab.

Minister Harin Fernando speaking to the "Island Financial Financial Review" after meeting Microsoft Chairman Jean Philippe Courtois said that a two-day international digital summit would be held in Colombo on March 23 and 24, with the participation of experts and executives of companies such as Facebook, Google, Social Capital and Infosys.

The objective of the Summit, he noted was to make Sri Lanka a global digital hub by introducing the latest innovation and technologies to attract the next generation of new technology pioneers.

Fernando said that Courtois had assured his companies support to develop computer literacy in Sri Lanka and also speed up digitalisation." The Microsoft Chief emphasised on the importance of creating a paperless working environment and urged us to implement measures to make it a reality."

Wickremesinghe informed Courtis that Sri Lanka was in the process of opening up to three of the world’s four biggest markets and urged investors to identify projects they were interested in.

Minister Malik Samarawickrema called on the diaspora, to take advantage of the investment opportunities that were opening up throughout the country.

The 47th Annual Meeting opened with the 23rd Crystal Awards, which celebrated the achievements of leading artists who are bridge builders and role models for society leaders.

The recipients were violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter for her leadership in providing opportunities for young people to develop careers as musicians. Singer/Songwriter Shakira for her leadership in supporting early childhood development and artist and social activist Forest Whitaker for his leadership in peace-building and conflict resolution.

Minister Ravi Karunanayake who met China’s E-commerce magnate Jack Ma on the sidelines of WEF, said that the billionaire businessman had described Sri Lanka as a good investment opportunity. "He was impressed by the rapid improvement of our economy and expressed interest in immediately getting involved in Sri Lanka. Such a move would generate employment in large numbers."

Jack Ma in his address to WEF, said that his network could create a lot of jobs worldwide. He is the first mainland Chinese entrepreneur to appear on the cover of Forbes Magazine. The real time net worth of Alibaba has risen from USD 21.8 billion in October 2015, to a current figure of USD 27.7 billion.

Business transactions in excess of USD 463 billion were conducted on Alibaba’s retail platforms last year. It has set a goal of creating 10 million profitable businesses and 100 million jobs in the next 20 years.

Beyond e-commerce, in October 2016, Alibaba’s film unit forged an alliance with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners.

During talks between Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) President Jin Liqun also on the sidelines of WEF, Liqun agreed to assist the governments "Powerful Sri Lanka" development drive.It includes the construction of, roads, highways, ports and city development.

The AIIB President having assessed the outline of the proposed projects mentioned by Wickremesinghe, said that his Bank would provide loans and grants on reasonable terms, after having gone into the specifics.

The Prime Minister thanked the AIIB for the assistance it had provided in the past and requested that it continued to support Sri Lanka’s economic progress.

The AIIB is an international financial institution that aims to support the building of infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region. The establishment of the Bank which has 50 member states, all of whom are founders, was proposed by China in 2013.

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