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Overcoming Obstacles: The Economic Case for a Sri Lanka-Thailand FTA



By Asanka Wijesinghe and Nilupulee Rathnayake

In 2019, only 6 % of tea imported by Thailand was from Sri Lanka. This low percentage can be attributed to the difference in preferences and Thailand’s high tariffs of 90 % on imported tea, which act as barriers to Sri Lanka’s tea exports. Additionally, Thailand imposes up to 30 % tariffs on nearly 120 product lines of wearing apparel.

These high tariffs for products with a comparative advantage are not exclusive to Sri Lanka. Thailand also faces higher tariffs for vehicles, rubber, and light-electronics exports which Thailand exports competitively. This tariff structure hampers the bilateral trade of products with a higher comparative advantage for both countries.

Despite these challenges, Sri Lanka and Thailand have expedited the process of signing a free trade agreement (FTA) to boost bilateral trade by threefold to USD 1.5 billion. This article discusses the trade effect of an FTA and a way forward to maximise the gains from an FTA.

Existing Trade is Skewed towards Thailand

In the pre-pandemic period, Sri Lanka-Thailand bilateral trade was nearly USD 500 million. The three-year-2017, 2018 and 2019- average exports from Sri Lanka to Thailand were USD 62.9 million, while the exports from Thailand to Sri Lanka were USD 416.8 million. In 2019, Thailand was the 9th largest import source for Sri Lanka, but Sri Lanka is only the 73rd largest import source for Thailand. The mismatch resulted in a bilateral trade deficit of USD 353.9 million.

The existing exports from Sri Lanka to Thailand do not represent Sri Lanka’s typical export basket. The contribution of traditional exports like ready-made garments, tea, rubber, and coconuts is relatively low, and gems, electrical equipment, wheat flour, and activated carbon contribute to a greater extent. Technically specified natural rubber and latex are the top exports from Thailand which are essential raw materials in the value-added rubber industry of Sri Lanka.

Effect of Lowering Tariffs on Bilateral Trade to Zero

As estimated from partial equilibrium analysis, Sri Lanka will realise a 38 % increase in exports to Thailand if tariffs are reduced to zero (Figure 2). The wearing apparel sector would be the biggest beneficiary, with exports projected to increase by 251 % from USD 6.4 million to USD 22.5 million. Figure 3A provides the top ten exports by Sri Lanka benefitting from a tariff removal by Thailand. The export effect for Thailand will be 27.8 % and Thailand’s rubber and plastic products will be increased by 71.9 % or USD 35.4 million. Products such as smoked sheets of rubber and natural latexwould benefit the most from tariff elimination, as shown in Figure 3B.

Assuming an immediate phasing-out of the existing tariffs, an FTA would increase bilateral trade to USD 619.6 million by 29.1 %. This increase falls short of the ambitious goal of a threefold increase in bilateral trade, at least in the short run.

However, partial equilibrium analysis does not estimate the trade gains from new product innovations due to FDI movements. The estimates also do not account for trade effects through input-output linkages and magnification of tariff effects along the value chains. However, tariff phasing out takes time, and FTA coverages are less than 100 %.

An offensive list contains products for which a country has a comparative advantage, capacity for expansion, and a favourable tariff from the importing country. There are 154 such products for Sri Lanka. Notably, 81 % of the USD 27.6 million export gain from an FTA comes from these 154 product lines. Similarly, 69 % of Thailand’s export gains to Sri Lanka in an FTA comes from 147 products identified for the offensive list.

Once ordered by the estimated export gains, nine out of the top ten products of Sri Lanka’s offensive list are from the wearing apparel sector. For Thailand, vital offensive products are rubber, electric equipment like air-conditioners and refrigerators, and motor vehicles for goods transportation.

Challenges and the Way Forward:

Applying tariff cuts for all the products in the offensive lists is a challenge. Thailand’s high tariffs for tea and ready-made exports indicate its protectionist intent. Likewise, Sri Lanka might prefer to keep tariffs on rubber products. Significant political manoeuvring and delicate negotiations will be required to bring the coverage of the FTA to a satisfactory level. Secondly, an FTA will widen Sri Lanka’s trade deficit with Thailand by 26 % (Figure 4). Although a trade deficit is not necessarily detrimental, it does present a short-term challenge due to increased dollar outflow.

A possible solution is tariff elimination for the products in bilateral value chains. Sri Lanka uses Thailand’s rubber and textile products to produce finished goods. If Thailand removes tariffs for these finished products, increased exports will demand more raw materials. Sri Lanka can reciprocate by eliminating tariffs on raw materials. Phasing-in of the FTA, accounting for required adjustments, will also increase the political feasibility.

Strengthening bilateral trade ties with Thailand offers additional benefits to Sri Lanka. An FTA provides an opportunity to join electric equipment manufacturing value chains and a gateway to ASEAN economies. Thus, Sri Lanka should negotiate a comprehensive trade agreement with investment promotion, trade facilitation, and competition laws. Thailand can leverage Sri Lanka’s position as a distributional hub for regional exports.

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Strong Q4 net profit growth boosts Teejay Lanka’s outlook for year ahead



Teejay Lanka Chairman Ajit Gunewardene (left) and CEO MPubudu De Silva

Strong net profit growth in the final quarter of 2023-24 has enabled Teejay Lanka PLC to end the financial year on an optimistic note despite the impacts of the appreciation of the Rupee, which contributed to its 12-month results falling below those of the preceding year.

Sri Lanka’s first multinational textile manufacturer has reported net profit of Rs 549.1 million for the three months ending 31st March 2024, up 260% over the corresponding quarter of the previous year and a 15% improvement over the preceding quarter.

Despite an increase in sales volumes, the Group’s revenue for the quarter, at Rs 15.3 billion, was down 4% over the figure for the third quarter of the year and 12% lower than the revenue of the corresponding quarter of the previous year. This was due to the appreciation of the Sri Lanka Rupee.

For the year ending 31st March 2024, Teejay Lanka reported revenue of Rs 60.8 billion, profit before tax of Rs 1.6 billion, and net profit of Rs 1.1 billion, reflecting declines of 28%, 49% and 48% respectively over 2022-23 as a result of the softening of the global market conditions during the year.

Nevertheless, the Group ended the financial year with a strong balance sheet with a cash and cash equivalents balance of Rs 8.9 billion and a net assets base of Rs 30.1 billion. Teejay’s net assets value per share of Rs 42 was lower by 6% when compared to the corresponding quarter, stemming from the strengthening of the Rupee against the Dollar, the Group said.

“The Group has reported gross profit of Rs 1.5 billion representing a year-on-year increase of 27% and a 17% increase when compared to the third quarter, as a result of the effective utilisation of the Group’s capacity at its two locations,” Teejay Lanka CEO Pubudu De Silva said. “Further optimisation of capacity utilisation and operational efficiency and stability in yarn prices have positively contributed to this growth, strengthening our confidence for the year ahead.”

Commenting on the Group’s performance in the concluded financial year, Teejay Lanka Chairman Ajit Gunewardene said it was encouraging to note the success of the multifaceted strategic initiatives undertaken to reverse the losses of the first quarter and to respond to market dynamics.

Gunewardene added: “The Group’s long-term priorities include digitalization, establishing and executing a robust ESG framework, reducing costs, developing new products, enhancing synthetic capacity, and uplifting and empowering human capital to enhance resourcefulness. These strategies are expected to come into effect in the current financial year, indicating promising prospects for the future and enabling the Group to mitigate the impact of identified pressures, volatilities, and challenges.”

The Teejay Group owns manufacturing facilities in Sri Lanka and India, along with a state-of-the-art printing facility in Sri Lanka. An ISO 9001:2015, ISO 14001:2015 and OHSAS 18001:2007 compliant company and the first in the industry to develop green fabric, Teejay Lanka was also the first textile manufacturer in Sri Lanka to receive membership of the US Cotton Trust Protocol. Teejay is a public quoted company with 40 per cent public ownership and the backing of Sri Lanka’s largest apparel exporter Brandix Lanka which has a 33 per cent stake in the Company. Pacific Textiles of Hong Kong, whose key shareholder is the Tokyo Stock Exchange listed Toray Industries Inc., owns 27 per cent of Teejay Lanka.(Teejay Lanka)

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SriLankan Cargo partners with CargoAi to enhance airfreight booking and payment experience



SriLankan Cargo, the cargo arm of SriLankan Airlines, has partnered with CargoAi, a leader in digital freight solutions, to simplify and enhance the airfreight booking and payment process for users

SriLankan Cargo, the cargo arm of SriLankan Airlines, has partnered with CargoAi, a leader in digital freight solutions, to simplify and enhance its airfreight booking and payment processes, and bring more transparency and velocity for users than ever.

The integration of SriLankan Cargo’s airfreight services into CargoAi’s ecosystem gives users access to online booking and instant cross-border payment capabilities, while allowing SriLankan Cargo to increase its reach and support forwarders that were previously untapped.

CargoAi’s integration with SriLankan Cargo also streamlines payment processes by offering multiple payment methods, ranging from local transfers to credit card payments, removing the reliance on cash payments and enhancing security and efficiency in financial transactions. Additionally, CargoAi’s CargoWALLET platform facilitates the reconciliation process, automating tasks that were previously manual and time-consuming.

For freight forwarders, the integration also means that they no longer need to provide a bank guarantee or pay yearly subscriptions. Everything is seamlessly integrated with CargoMART, simplifying operations and reducing overhead costs, allowing forwarders to focus on core business operations without the burden of administrative complexities.

Chaminda Perera, Head of Cargo of SriLankan Airlines commented by saying, “Our partnership with CargoAi marks another significant stride in our digitalization journey, aimed at expanding our horizons. We will be able to enhance the visibility of our inventory and offer customers a convenient airfreight booking experience. We are looking forward to extending our market reach and engaging with businesses of all scales with CargoAi.”

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Mövenpick Hotel Colombo unveils ‘Space’ wellness brand



Mövenpick Hotel Colombo proudly introduces ‘Space’, an innovative wellness brand designed to transcend boundaries and cultivate a culture of holistic well-being. The launch of ‘Space’ underscores the hotel’s unwavering commitment to fostering a vibrant and sustainable living experience for all.

‘Space’ represents a transformative leap forward for Mövenpick Hotel Colombo, consolidating its diverse offerings into a singular platform dedicated to holistic wellness. From the rejuvenating embrace of dance therapy to the serene tranquility of outdoor yoga and the invigorating energy of cross-functional fitness, ‘Space’ curates an unparalleled array of experiences tailored to nurture the mind, body, and spirit. Complemented by a thoughtfully curated selection of therapeutic treatments and a culinary journey inspired by the principles of nourishment and balance, ‘Space’ promises to redefine wellness in Colombo.

At its core, ‘Space’ is more than a brand – it’s a philosophy, advocating for the creation of space for oneself and others in the pursuit of a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle. Through its multifaceted approach to wellness, ‘Space’ invites individuals to reclaim their well-being, fostering a sense of empowerment, connection, and community.

In a bold move towards inclusivity and accessibility, Mövenpick Hotel Colombo has brought together its entire spectrum of wellness offerings under the umbrella of ‘Space’. By consolidating these diverse experiences into one cohesive platform, the hotel seeks to ensure that every individual in the community has the opportunity to access and benefit from the transformative power of wellness. From guests seeking a rejuvenating escape to locals yearning for a sanctuary of self-discovery, ‘Space’ offers a welcoming embrace to all who seek balance and vitality.

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