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SL can speed up economic recovery by bolstering its democratic institutions: US Ambassador

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‘US has provided SL more than US$26 million for health and US$2 billion in aid’

The U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives Alaina B. Teplitz in a wide ranging interview on Sri Lanka – United States relations says; “Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation surrounding our engagement and several of our programs in recent times, but none of our programs infringe upon Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and we are very transparent in their design and implementation”.

At one point of the interview she says,” By relying on your long history of democracy and continuing to bolster your democratic institutions, you can speed up your recovery and be a leader in the region”.

Below you find some excerpts from the interview with Ambassador Teplitz.

 

By Dinesh Weerakkody

 

Q: Given the Covid-19 global pandemic and the challenging economic backdrop what do you see as the key priorities for US-SL relations in 2020 and in 2021?

  Sri Lankans have done a tremendous job managing the COVID-19 pandemic. As the country continues to take measures to prevent community transmission, it must also consider the economic recovery from the pandemic. The combination of economic shocks that have impacted the country in deep ways over the past two years are cumulative. It’s challenging, and of course the U.S supports a strong and sustainable recovery for Sri Lanka. We remain a steadfast partner to Sri Lanka, contributing over $5.8 million to Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 management efforts. That’s on top of the $26 million over the last couple decades devoted solely to health. And we anticipate we’ll be a strong partners not only around this particular crisis but around many issues to come in the future. We look forward to continuing to work together to bolster the bilateral relationship and address regional and global issues.

Q: The U.S. committed US$ 5.8 million in Covid-19 assistance to Sri Lanka reinforcing its long tradition of support for Sri Lanka’s security and sovereignty. Could you shed some light on which development areas, services and programs these funds have been channeled into?

The $5.8 million in assistance to Sri Lanka was channeled through USAID to partners such as UNICEF to directly address the needs of the Sri Lankan people. It includes $2 million to increase social services for areas and populations most impacted by the crisis, and support for activities that build social cohesion. Another $2 million will strengthen small and medium enterprises and increase women’s economic participation. As part of the newly-announced assistance, the U.S. is also providing $590,000 in humanitarian assistance through the International Red Cross that will support vulnerable people during the pandemic.

This assistance builds on the $1.3 million in health assistance the U.S. Embassy announced in April, which is helping the government prepare laboratory systems, activate case-finding and event-based surveillance, and support technical experts for response and preparedness. U.S. assistance is also enabling Sri Lanka to conduct communicate more effectively about the risk of infection and prevent and control infectious diseases in health facilities. As part of this $5.8 million, Deputy Chief of Mission, Martin Kelly recently joined with UNICEF to hand over U.S.-funded medical equipment to the Ministry of Health.These supplies will equip four COVID-19 isolation and treatment units specialized in maternal and neonatal care. In addition to this $5.8 million, we recently provided PPE to eight health care facilities across Sri Lanka and we are gifting Sri Lanka 200 brand-new ventilators in the coming days. Over the years, we’ve provided Sri Lanka more than $26 million for health and $2 billion in aid.

Q: U.S. influence in Sri Lanka has been hotly debated in recent times on matters ranging from military co-operation to development to wider assertions that the U.S. is seeking to undermine Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. What will the future look like?

The strongest partnerships are those that respect and protect one another’s sovereignty. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation surrounding our engagement and several of our programs in recent times, but none of our programs infringe upon Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and we are very transparent in their design and implementation. Our two countries share a strong and resilient relationship. We will continue to work with the Sri Lankan government to promote Sri Lanka’s prosperity and uphold its sovereignty.

Q: What do you see as Sri Lanka’s medium-term opportunities in terms of bilateral, political and economic co-operation?

  COVID-19 could really be a game changer in terms of both opportunities and challenges in the short and medium term. We don’t yet know the extent of the damage to the global economy or what the road to recovery will look like. The pandemic underscored how susceptible we are to global problems beyond our control and how we work more effectively in solving those problems when we work together. Strong international cooperation was required in addressing the crisis and it will be imperative in working towards recovery. Countries that adhere to democratic values, that respect rule of law, that have open and honest communications and provide credible information to protect their citizens will recover faster and be well staged to seize opportunities as they arise. The challenge for Sri Lanka will be continuing to provide the assistance your citizens require while you jump start your economy, attract foreign investment and repair the economic damage caused by the pandemic. But by relying on your long history of democracy and continuing to bolster your democratic institutions, you can speed your recovery and be a leader in the region.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current investment environment in Sri Lanka? Has the ease of doing business improved?  

The government needs to consider comprehensive policy reforms to improve the ease of doing business if it’s going to be in a position to attract foreign investment and take advantage of some of the supply chain changes that are going to come as many countries and companies seek to diversify their investments from China. Companies are actively looking to ensure they have some diversification in location and redundancy in that supply chain. So it’s an opportune moment for Sri Lanka. Major U.S. firms such as Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, Virtusa, Dell, and others are here and looking to develop and invest in the IT sector. An investment climate that is predictable and transparent will attract top international firms to invest in the country, not just in IT but other sectors as well. Additionally, continuing to build strong intellectual property rights protections will make Sri Lanka a competitively attractive destination in the region for IT investment.

Q: What do you see as the biggest opportunities for U.S. investors in Sri Lanka? Which sectors? And, what more needs to be done on the regulatory front to attract investment?

The pandemic has forced U.S. manufacturers to reevaluate their supply chains and figure out how to diversify suppliers to avoid disruptions.  Sri Lanka is well positioned to benefit from this. For U.S. buyers looking at potential suppliers from any country, including Sri Lanka, the key factors are quality, price, and the ability to deliver on time. So is predictability, as well as fair and transparent bidding opportunities and contract enforcement.  Apparel is a prime example: U.S. buyers associate a Sri Lankan product with high quality and dependable product delivery. Tea is another product that has gained the confidence of U.S. consumers. Sri Lankan products generally are viewed as manufactured under conditions that adhere to international labour regulations and proper quality standards.

Q: President Donald Trump is seen as a key promoter for protectionism and to only buy made in America products. How would you justify some of the trade measures introduced by the Trump administration, in the context of recommending greater inter-regional trade within South Asia?  

The  U.S. is the number one destination for Sri Lankan exports. Bilateral trade is heavily weighted in Sri Lanka’s favor: the United States imports around $2.9 billion worth of products from Sri Lanka and only exports around $390 million. Sri Lankan companies have benefited from friendly U.S. trade policies, such as the General System of Preferences (GSP), that encourage fair and competitive trade. In these difficult times, our trade relationship has only grown stronger to our mutual benefit, as Sri Lanka has stepped up to manufacture masks for the U.S., production that has kept factories running and workers in jobs. The GSP program promotes economic growth in the developing world by providing duty-free entry to the U.S. market for goods imported from specific developing countries. As a GSP beneficiary, Sri Lanka may export more than 3,500 different products to the U.S. duty-free. This is in addition to the 3,800 products that are duty-free for all countries. In the Indo-Pacific region, the U.S.  remains deeply engaged and committed to its prosperity. With $1.9 trillion in two-way trade, our futures are intertwined.

Q: Given that you are a very seasoned diplomat with good connections to the Trump Administration, what are your aspirations for United States-Sri Lanka relations during your tenure?  

The U.S. and Sri Lanka share common goals as fellow democracies working to promote and protect human rights and the rule of law. We continue to urge the government of Sri Lanka to take concrete steps to respond to the concerns of all its people. The  U.S. is also Sri Lanka’s single largest export market and Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner. In 2017, Sri Lanka exported over $2.9 billion of goods to the US, $2.1 billion of which were ready-made garments. The U.S. also views Sri Lanka as a great customer for American-made goods. The U.S. exports into many sectors of the Sri Lankan economy from advanced machinery to agricultural products. Building upon these powerful economic ties, we aspire for expanded growth and prosperity for the citizens of Sri Lanka and the U.S.  

Ambassador Teplitz is a senior member of the US Foreign Service, she joined the State Department in 1991 and is the recipient of numerous Awards. Ambassordor Teplitz also held the Assistant-Secretary ranked position of Director of the Under Secretary for Management’s Office of Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation (M/PRI) at the Department of State from 2012-2015. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.

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CEAT Kelani boosts earnings of local rubber industry

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CEAT Kelani representatives conducting training for rubber suppliers.

Increased production to meet local demand has enabled CEAT Kelani Holdings to increase its monthly purchases of natural rubber in the domestic market by as much as 35 per cent by September, the country’s leading tyre manufacturer has disclosed.

The company, which sources all of its natural rubber requirements locally, said its purchases in September 2020 alone would reach 500 tonnes (500,000kgs), generating Rs 150 million in revenue for Sri Lankan producers in areas such as Kegalle, Kalutara, Ratnapura and Monaragala.

In the pre-pandemic months of December 2019 to February 2020, CEAT Kelani’s purchases of rubber averaged 366 tonnes a month, generating average monthly revenue of Rs 107 million for local suppliers, the Company said.

“One of the major reasons for CEAT Kelani’s existence in Sri Lanka is the availability of natural rubber, and we have always been focussed on maximising local value addition,” the company’s Managing Director Ravi Dadlani observed. “With our ramping up of production in response to the temporary import restrictions imposed by the government, our contribution to local natural rubber producers has increased sharply, by as much as 40 per cent in value terms in just seven months.”

Increased production of truck, bus, radial and two-wheeler tyres by CEAT, while supporting the government’s efforts to conserve foreign exchange through import substitution, would also help local industry achieve the ‘V’ shaped post-pandemic recovery that is expected of it, Dadlani said.

CEAT Kelani engages with a base of nearly 30 dealers for the purchase of natural RSS rubber and interacts with them on daily basis. Besides daily procurement transactions, the Company imparts knowhow to the dealers to help them improve the quality of RSS grades. “We periodically audit dealers’ operations and help them maintain high quality standards,” Mr Dadlani added. “As a result many of our dealers are now recognised as “CEAT approved NR dealers.” This recognition not only helps them to be consistent suppliers to CEAT Kelani, it also helps them to establish themselves as quality suppliers of RSS grades to rest of the local industry.”

CEAT’s ramping up of production of truck and bus tyres since the start of the pandemic-linked lockdown has resulted in the Company now producing 100 per cent of the segment’s requirements and enabled the government to make a saving of Rs 11 billion a year in foreign exchange. The Company has also achieved an 85 per cent increase in the production of tyres for the ‘two-wheeler’ segment over the past three months; enabling a further saving of Rs 350 million a year through import substitution.

CEAT Kelani can currently produce two million tyres annually across multiple categories, and an addition of a further 200,000 Car and Van Radial tyres is imminent with new machinery being installed, pending the arrival of foreign technologists to commission the additional capacity.

Notably, CEAT Kelani Holdings has kept the prices of its tyres unchanged since December 2019 to support customers and the economy, despite the additional investments made in increasing capacity and an increase in market prices due to demand.

CEAT Kelani Holdings is considered one of the most successful India – Sri Lanka joint ventures in the manufacturing sector. The joint venture’s cumulative investment in Sri Lanka to date totals Rs 8 billion, inclusive of Rs 3 billion committed in January 2018 for expansion of volumes, technology upgrades and new product development. The company’s manufacturing operations in Sri Lanka encompass pneumatic tyres in the radial (passenger cars, vans and SUVs), commercial (Bias-ply and radial), motorcycle, three-wheeler and agricultural vehicle segments.

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Dialog Axiata introduces ‘Couple Blaster’ with unlimited calls and SMS

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Dialog Axiata PLC announced the launch of Sri Lanka’s Best Couple Plan ‘Couple Blaster’ facilitating all Dialog mobile customers with Unlimited Calls and SMS between two numbers for as low as Rs. 123 (including taxes) per month. The unique feature of this plan is that only one user needs to activate it for both users to enjoy the benefit of unlimited calls and SMS.Dialog Mobile postpaid customers can activate the package and register the couple number by dialling #171#.  Dialog Mobile prepaid customers can activate the package by reloading Rs. 123 and register the couple number by dialling #171#. The couple number to be registered can either be a Dialog mobile prepaid or postpaid mobile connection. Mobile postpaid customers will have the freedom to change the couple number as and when they require for a fee of Rs. 100, for each change made. Prepaid mobile customers can change the other registered number free of charge, once every month.Understanding the emergent consumer needs, the ‘Couple Blaster’ package acts as an ultimate accompaniment to the Unlimited YouTube, Facebook and WhatsApp plans being offered by Dialog’s ‘Blaster’ range for all the digitally savvy youth who rely on relevant, accessible and affordable Voice, SMS and Data plans. This latest addition is testament to the company’s commitment to facilitate over 15 million of its customers.

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Sampath Bank supports medical research with special loan

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Nanda Fernando, Managing Director, Sampath Bank PLC (3rd from right) hands over the agreement to Dr. Nihal Abeysinghe, President-Elect, College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka (CCPSL), where several other senior officials were present.

Extending its support to the field of medical research during this global pandemic proactively, Sampath Bank joined hands with the College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka (CCPSL) to offer a special low interest loan to Postgraduate Medical Officers in Public Health.

The Bank is offering loans of up to Rs.1 million at a fixed rate of 8.5% p.a. for the first year and a floating rate of 9% p.a. for the remaining period of the loan, for up to 7 years, with a grace period of up to 12 months.

This loan is aimed at supporting Postgraduate Medical Officers with the costs associated in their research at the University of Colombo’s Post Graduate Institute of Medicine. They can obtain this facility without any personal guarantee by simply providing an undertaking from their employer to remit their salary or the loan instalment amount to the account.

Nanda Fernando, Managing Director, Sampath Bank PLC handed over the formal agreement in this regard to Dr. Nihal Abeysinghe, President-Elect, College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka at the Sampath Bank Head Office premises in the presence of representatives from Sampath Bank and the CCPSL

“At Sampath Bank, we have always taken pride in recognising the intelligence, originality and inventiveness of our fellow Sri Lankans and are committed to powering the nation’s research and development efforts. Inspired by the passion and dedication of the countless heroes from across Sri Lanka’s healthcare sector, especially during this pandemic, we sought to extend our support to them. As part of this, we are delighted to support them with their research through a special loan for Medical Officers engaged in Postgraduate studies in Community Medicine at the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo. We look forward to seeing more pioneering medical research coming from our country in the future,” said Nanda Fernando, Managing Director, Sampath Bank PLC.

“We are grateful to Sampath Bank for offering concessionary loans to Medical Officers pursuing in Postgraduate studies in Community Medicine at the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo. Coming at a time when there is a heightened need for medical research and education, this will go a long way in helping them with their research. We look forward to seeing other disciplines in postgraduate medical studies availing similar benefits for their courses too,” said Dr. Nihal Abeysinghe, President-Elect, College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka.

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