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Japan warns of threat of global downturn



Japanese Ambassador in Colombo Akira Sugiyama recently said that although Sri Lanka had been successful in combating Covid-19 pandemic, the continuing global crisis caused serious difficulty to the Sri Lankan economy, especially in export and tourism sectors.

Ambassador Sugiyama said so at the 41st Annual General Meeting of the Sri Lanka-Japan Business Council held recently at the JAIC Hilton where Merrick Gooneratne received the appointment as President of the Sri Lanka–Japan Business Council

The Ambassador said: First of all, on behalf of the Government of Japan, I would like to express our solidarity with the people and the Government of Sri Lanka in combatting COVID-19, while commending the strong leadership of the Government and the business leaders of Sri Lanka in tackling successfully the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19. Japan has provided USD9.6M grant aid to help Sri Lanka’s fight against COVID-19, including procurement of essential medical equipment like MRI system and CT scanners and improvement of hospital facilities.

The COVID-19 has had a serious negative impact on the global economy. Both Sri Lanka and Japan, like other countries in the world, are tackling the challenge of resuming and rebuilding economic activities while controlling the spread of the virus.

“Sri Lanka effectively implemented the curfew to contain the spread of the virus, while ensuring the people’s access to basic needs, including food and medicine, and without disrupting essential services in both public and private sectors. Now, the virus infection in Sri Lanka is successfully under control with zero community transmission. This is a commendable achievement. The global pandemic, however, caused serious difficulty to the Sri Lankan economy, especially in export sector and tourism. The Government of Sri Lanka announced several financial and monetary measures to mitigate this economic difficulty, and, most assuredly, they could lead to significant positive impacts on the Sri Lankan economy.

“Japan’s economy is in severe difficulty. The Government of Japan declared a State of Emergency on April 7th to request that the people and business community limit their activities to the minimum, although on a voluntary basis, to contain the COVID-19. Although the state of emergency was lifted on May 25 after pulling off the crisis, we still see new cases of infection every day. As disruption of social and economic activities in Japan and abroad takes a heavy toll on our economy. Japan’s economy contracted by 7.9 % in the second quarter of this year compared with the first quarter, which is equivalent to 28.1 % decline on an annualized basis. Japan is now struggling to strike an appropriate balance between reviving the economy and containing the virus spread. New Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga stressed in his first press conference, the most urgent agenda for the new Government is of course how we will get our economy back on track.

“Let me briefly discuss how consumer habits have changed in Japan after the COVID-19 pandemic, although I have to say that this is my layman’s view.

“As people start to work from home and spend more time at home because of the pandemic, their lifestyle and way of consumption have significantly changed. First, the COVID-19 has brought a considerable shift in the consumer’s style of shopping – from store shopping to on-line shopping. Because of stay-at-home requirement, consumers who were not familiar with online services such as restaurant delivery applications are now experimenting with these new devices. This has stimulated the uptake of digital commerce among more Japanese. Second, we are seeing an increasing demand for the goods and services which make working-from-home easy and efficient and staying-at-home more comfortable and enjoyable, including electronic appliances and online video services. In Japan, such consumption trend is called “nesting consumption”, which means that, like nesting birds, people stay and work at home and buy things online to keep their home tidy and comfortable.

“Next, products essential for the health and wellbeing of people such as masks and alcohol disinfectants are high in demand among consumers since people are now more conscious about hygiene and good health. In this connection, it should be noted that the COVID-19 has caused serious disruptions to global supply chains, resulting in shortages of various products, including such hygiene products. We keenly feel the need to diversify production bases of those products.

“Staying at home and health concerns are also changing payment methods of Japanese people. As some of you may know, Japanese people still have a preference for cash payment in daily lives, but prevalence of online shopping and hygiene concerns about touching money make people go for credit cards or prepaid cards more frequently.

“Since people stay home and do not go out, they do not pay for travel and hospitality services. As in Sri Lanka, in Japan tourism and hospitality business have lost business substantially because of the COVID-19. Since the tourism industry in Japan is increasingly dependent on inbound tourists, the entry ban of foreign tourists has been giving a serious negative impact on the tourism industry, especially local (outside Tokyo) businesses. To address this issue by promoting domestic travel, the Government of Japan has embarked on “Go to Travel Campaign” which gives domestic travelers a discount on travel costs, including hotel accommodations, if hotels or restaurants they use take strict health precautionary measures against the COVID-19.

“Of course, business people like you have much better ideas about these new trends. Having said that, I think that some of these changes will be here to stay even after the COVID-19 threat passes and could even open up new business opportunities.

With the lessons learnt from this pandemic, our two countries should come up with proper strategic moves to convert the global pandemic challenge into opportunities and I hope this would turn a new leaf in Japan-Sri Lanka business relations.”

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Pakistan Navy ship arrives in Colombo



Pakistan Navy Ship (PNS) Taimur arrived, at the port of Colombo, on a formal visit, yesterday morning (12). The visiting ship was welcomed by the Sri Lanka Navy, in compliance with naval traditions.The 134m-long ship is commanded by Captain M. Yasir Tahir and it is manned by 169 as the ship’s complement.

The Commanding Officer of PNS Taimur is scheduled to call on Commander Western Naval Area, at the Western Naval Command Headquarters, today. The ship is expected to remain in the island, until 15th August, and the crew of the ship will take part in several programmes, organized by the Sri Lanka Navy, to promote cooperation and goodwill between the two navies.

PNS Taimur is also expected to conduct a naval exercise with the Sri Lanka Navy in western seas on its departure on 15th August.

Meanwhile, PNS Tughril, an identical warship belonging to the Pakistan Navy, arrived in Sri Lanka on an official visit on 13th December 2021 and conducted a successful naval exercise with SLNS Sindurala off the western coast on 16th December. Naval exercises of this nature with regional navies will enable each partner to overcome common maritime challenges in the future, through enhanced cooperation.

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Stalin reads riot act to govt. over proposal to allow schoolchildren to work part time



By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Alliance of Trade Unions and Mass Organisations yesterday warned that the government’s decision to allow schoolchildren, between the ages of 16 and 20, to work part time, would have disastrous consequences.Addressing the media on 11 Aug., General Secretary of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union, Joseph Stalin, said that the government was planning to amend laws, allowing schoolchildren to work in the private sector for 20 hours a week.

“Now, this may look like a progressive idea. A lot of families are

struggling and if another family member can chip in, it would be a great help. I am sure a lot of children feel the same way. It is also true that there may be children who will find great jobs and horn their skills,” he said.However, these proposals have come at a time when education is in crisis and the schools are on the verge of collapse.

“During the last two and a half years, most children have learnt nothing. But children who go to elite schools are doing better. These schools have systems in place, but most others don’t. Children who do not go to tier one schools have suffered and most children who do not go to such elite schools will not find part time work that will prepare them for the jobs of the future,” he said. “It’s not easy to balance school work with vocation training, especially physically intensive work. Most people will drop out and social mobility will further stagnate. Fix the education system first and create a more level playing field,” Stalin said.

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Harsha: Will RW use Emergency to steamroller his economic reforms?



By Saman Indrajith

SJB MP Harsha de Silva yesterday asked President Ranil Wickremesinghe whether the latter was planning to use Emergency powers to suppress the people who might oppose his economic reform agenda.

“It is being asked why the government wants to continue the State of Emergency. The anti-government protesters have gone home. There is no unrest. There are those who say that the President wants to keep the Emergency laws to carry out economic reforms. Does that mean the President will use these laws to scare people into submission if they do not accept his economic reforms? I don’t think people can be intimidated. I want the President to answer this question,” he said.

MP de Silva said that the government did not have public support and that it was obvious that the spectre of the Rajapaksas was haunting the government.

“I agree that Wickremesinghe was appointed constitutionally. We have to work within the Constitution. However, the 134 votes he received on 20 July were not realistic. They have managed to manipulate the Constitution, but the government doesn’t have the support of the people. The problem is can the government win the support of the people,” he said.The SJB lawmaker added that Sri Lanka needed to restructure its debt. However, the country had not even started the process.

“One of the consultants we hired, Lazard, says that we have to start with China because it is new to debt restructuring. But we have not done so. Not only that, we have in fact started a diplomatic issue with China. What’s the front page news today? Can this government solve this sensitive international issue? Can it carry out the necessary economic reforms?” he asked.

MP de Silva said that the government had to work with the people and that it had to be honest with them. The government needed to present a common programme on which an all party government could be established.

“In 2020, we said that the government was on the wrong path and that we needed to seek IMF assistance. The government didn’t listen. We need an all-party programme to go before the IMF and get a decent deal. Today, I present to Parliament an economic recovery plan we have prepared. When we decided to throw our weight behind SLPP MP Dullas Alahapperuma, I was entrusted with the task of making an economic plan. We have run it through experts too. I ask the MPs to look at this and suggest improvements.”

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