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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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Sri Lanka and Bangladesh shouldn’t compete for the same objective: Bangladesh HC

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President NCCSL, Nandika Buddhipala presents a token of appreciation to Bangladesh High Commissioner Tareq Md Ariful Islam at the bilateral trade and investment forum held at the National Chamber of Commerce recently.

*  Political stability has mainly driven the growth trajectory in Bangladesh

*  Bangladesh is poised to capture a bigger share of the global apparel market

*  More Sri Lankan businesses should tap the growth centre next door

*  Draws attention to a great shortcoming in connectivity between the two countries

by Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka and Bangladesh can gain more from bilateral trade cooperation by strategically utilizing the two countries’ respective comparative advantages and strengths than from competing with each other for the same objective, Bangladesh High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Tareq Md Ariful Islam said in Colombo recently.

“All the more so because the two countries have a similar product range which has led to a low bilateral trade volume of US$ 200-300 million,” he pointed out.

The High Commissioner made these remarks while addressing a bilateral trade and investment forum at the auditorium of the National Chamber of Commerce (NCCSL) where he was the special guest speaker.

“The similarity in our product range is the main reason behind low trade volume. However, there is a lot of scope for improvement in our trade ties. What we need to do is to couple our respective, comparative advantages and build resilient cooperation to be more competitive in the global market,” he observed.

“The two countries have just completed 50-years of diplomatic relationship.

It has been a long, enduring relationship based on friendship, goodwill and good neighborliness. Over these 50 years, we have enjoyed very strong bonds of solidarity and friendship. Our business ties are also very strong. Now we need to capitalize on our excellent political relations to make the business relationship stronger to make it more tangible, so that it can touch the lives of our people and also help Sri Lanka’s endeavors towards its economic recovery,” he said.

Presenting a comprehensive picture under the theme of the discussion, the High Commissioner went on to say:

“Sri Lankan business community would like to know what opportunities are available in Bangladesh for trade and investment, its government policies, macroeconomic data and how the Bangladesh High Commission in Sri Lanka can help them in this regard.”

“According to my view, preferential trade agreements (PTAs) or free trade agreements (FTAs) shouldn’t be seen through the lens of revenue earning or revenue loss. It means much more than that. While revenue loss and revenue gains are definitely important, there are many other benefits that PTAs and FTAs can bring to our economies; for example, creation of employment and enhancement of our respective competitiveness in the global market. So we should take a holistic approach to FTAs and PTAs. If we can judiciously select the respective tariff lines, then there is every possibility that a PTA or FTA between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka can be successful. We are very encouraged to see that the current government has put a lot of emphasis on PTAs and FTAs with bilateral partners. We started our negotiation late last year. So far we have made good progress, but we still have to do more.”

“Bangladesh initially received substantial investment from Sri Lanka; mostly in readymade garments sector and now Sri Lankan companies have extended into health, power, logistics, financial sector etc. Now they have diversified into investment banking, wealth management, paint, packaging, FMCG etc. This is an indication about the growing, diversified market in Bangladesh. Most of the conglomerates in Sri Lanka have very successful operations in Bangladesh and more Sri Lankan businesses are showing interest in doing business in Bangladesh.”

“Bangladesh has had consistently high economic growth. The average GDP growth in the last 30 years is 6.6% which is among the best in the world. In 2019, it reached 8.15% right before the pandemic. During the pandemic, Bangladesh had 5.4% growth which was among the highest in the world during Covid time. In financial year 2020-21 our growth was 6.9% according to the IMF. In 2021, it went up to 7.2%. The focus for 2022-23 according to the IMF is 6%, but we are hopeful of achieving higher growth. Our foreign debt to GDP is 11.86% and local debt to GDP is 31.42% which is the lowest in the region. Bangladesh is a USD 400 billion plus economy – 41 largest in terms of nominal GDP and 32 largest in terms of purchasing power parity. Per capita income has soared to USD 2,824. Foreign exchange reserves are now USD 34 billion. It was USD 44 billion last year and the decline was due to the rise in the prices of essential commodities in the global market.”

“We have sought an IMF package. We got USD 4.5 billion. This was not a bailout. It was to deal with balance of payment issues. Bangladesh’s Inflation is at a single digit of 8.9%. Remittance in 2019-2020 was USD 18 billion and even during the pandemic, it went up to USD 24 billion. Our exports crossed the USD 50 billion mark last year for the first time.”

“There is a winning combination of conditions for any potential investor or business house to do business in Bangladesh. The main driving force has been our political stability which has mainly helped the growth trajectory in Bangladesh. Ours is a domestic market with 165 million people and out of that, 37 million is the growing middle class whose per capita income is between USD 5,000 and 7,000. On top of that two million are joining the middle class each year.”

“Because Bangladesh has handled geo-politics well, it has become a sought-after destination for many regional business houses to relocate their establishments. We have special economic zones dedicated for Japan, India, China and South Korea. This shows that investment is safe and profitable in Bangladesh, therefore, Sri Lanka can further tap this growth centre next door.”

“Bangladesh is poised to capture a bigger share of the global apparel market. Sri Lanka can also contribute in that direction. Apparel industry of the two countries can utilize the comparative advantages in the production process, value addition in re-exports etc. We can utilize Sri Lankan expertise in this sector. Sri Lankans have helped take our readymade garments sector to where it’s today. Our apparel industry continues to benefit from your human resources.”

“Through cooperation, we can enhance our global competitiveness in our IT products. Manufacturing of pharmaceutical products and medical equipment also has more scope for investment.”

“About 700,000 Bangladeshis spend USD 3.5 million every year for overseas medical treatments. That’s a big market Sri Lanka can tap. Electronic components, agricultural food processing, leather and footwear, medical insurance, steel and cement, renewable energy, FMCG, retail operations, supply chain and logistics, financial sector are other sectors with opportunities for investment, supported by proactive policies of the Bangladesh government.”

“Although both countries are into tea, your global tea brands can partner with us in making fine blended tea, “he said.

The High Commissioner chose this forum to draw attention to a great shortcoming in connectivity between the two countries by sea and air which leads to the disadvantage of Sri Lanka tourism.

“Bangladeshis with disposable income travel to all regional destinations, but they are not coming to Sri Lanka because of the poor connectivity. If connectivity and affordability of air fares can be taken care of, Sri Lanka tourism can benefit from it,” he said.

In 2020, Bangladesh imported $153 million worth of goods from Sri Lanka while exports from Bangladesh to Sri Lanka stood at $ 48 million.

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Share market edges–up on mid-market trade for third day running

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By Hiran H. Senewiratne

The CSE began a fresh week on a strong note with sharp increase in both indices and an improved turnover yesterday. The market edged -up on mid- market trade for the third day driven by Expolanka, Lanka IOC and Browns Investment, analysts said.

“Market is still being pushed by Expolanka’s expansion news, while Lanka IOC is moving on higher valuation. But there is month- end profit taking in the market. The Central Bank Governor Dr Nandalal Weerasinghe’s recent positive remarks on the economy in many foras have resulted in the stock market moving well, analysts added.

Further, stock market investor sentiment improved when the Central Bank Governor hinted that the economy has achieved short term stability and that interest rates are to come down in the future.

The bourse commenced the week on a positive note and continued to see strength for the second consecutive day as investors expect interest rates to continue to fall in line with inflation in the upcoming months, stock market analysts opined.

Consequently, both indices moved upwards. The All- Share Price Index went up by 92.6 points and S and P SL20 rose by 43.1 points. Turnover stood at Rs 2.9 billion with a crossing. The crossing was reported in Melstacorp, which crossed 888,000 shares to the tune of Rs 39.6 million and its shares traded at Rs 45.50.

In the retail market top seven companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were, Expolanka Holdings Rs 1.2 billion (6.6 million shares traded), Lanka IOC Rs 381 million (two million shares traded), Browns Investments Rs 287 million (43.6 million shares traded), First Capital Holdings Rs 119.4 million (5.5 million shares traded), First Capital Treasuries Rs 87.5 million (four million shares traded), ACL Cables Rs 61.6 million (781,000 shares traded) and Melstacorp Rs 54.4 million (1.1 million shares traded). During the day 100 million shares changed hands in 23000 share transactions.

It is said that high net worth and institutional investor participation was noted in Lankem Developments and Lanka IOC. Mixed interest was observed in Expolanka Holdings, ACL Cables and First Capital Holdings, while retail interest was noted in Browns Investments, SMB Leasing and LOLC Finance.

The Transportation sector was the top contributor to the market turnover (due to Expolanka Holdings) while the sector index gained 11.62 per cent. The share price of Expolanka Holdings increased by Rs. 19 (11.64 percent) to close at Rs.182.25.

The Energy sector was the second highest contributor to the market turnover (due to Lanka IOC) while the sector index increased by 3.60 per cent. The share price of Lanka IOC gained Rs. 7.25 (3.98 per cent) to close at Rs. 189.50.

Yesterday, the Central Bank announced the US dollar buying rate as Rs 361.23 and the selling rate as Rs 371.71.

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‘JAT posts stellar Q2 – doubles PBT and commences manufacturing in Bangladesh’

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JAT Holdings PLC has posted exceptional financial performance for Q2 of FY 2022/23. During the Quarter, the Group also achieved a major milestone, delivering on its key IPO promise, by inaugurating its own end-to-end state-of-the art manufacturing facility in Bangladesh. Simultaneously, JAT Holdings PLC also recorded its highest-ever revenue for Q2 in history, doubling its profit before tax, compared with the corresponding period in the year prior.

Accordingly, JAT Holdings PLC noted a YTD revenue growth of 40% during the period, concurrently managing to increase gross profit margins amidst the most challenging economic environment in its history, clearly demonstrating the Group’s strategic and fiscal prowess.

Gross Profit margins grew during the period under review amidst a deepening economic crisis, material scarcity in global markets and foreign exchange outflow restrictions. The Group’s strategy of purchasing raw materials in bulk and maintaining adequate stocks for at least 6 months at all times, allowed the enterprise to benefit from economies of scale, while JAT Holdings’ prudent and effective waste management efforts helped to improve productivity and efficiency. As a result, operating profit also recorded a healthy growth of 111% during the period under review, supported by cost management efforts, which helped manage input cost inflation and foreign exchange volatility. Profit Before Tax (PBT) and Profit After Tax (PAT) also sustained their recovery momentum, while showing sharp rises in the quarter under review, contrasted with the corresponding period in the previous year.

Commenting on the business momentum, CEO Nishal Ferdinando said, “Supported by our new manufacturing facility in Bangladesh and expert manoeuvring in the Sri Lankan market amidst the toughest business environment we have endured to date, we are pleased to present rock solid financial performance to our investors, and exceptional value to all other stakeholders. Leveraging our excellent relationships with suppliers, we have secured raw materials and shored up our stocks to be able to meet upcoming seasonal demand. The capital raised at the IPO has enabled us to keep borrowing costs to a minimum amidst a tighter monetary environment, which has delivered a positive boost to our bottom line. We intend to move forward with the present momentum and continue to deliver exceptional performance during the remainder of FY 2022/23.”

The Group’s WHITE by JAT range of brilliant white paints grew rapidly, driven by a unique hybrid marketing strategy. Commencement of manufacturing in Bangladesh, coupled with the opening of JAT Holdings PLC’s R&D Centre, another fulfilment of an IPO pledge, helped to drive business momentum during the quarter

Discussing the Group’s strategy and future plans, Founder and Managing Director Aelian Gunawardene added, “Just over a year on from our IPO, I’m pleased to communicate to investors that we have fulfilled the pledges made in our prospectus. We have completed and commissioned our ultramodern end-to-end manufacturing and warehousing facility in Bangladesh, located strategically in close proximity to seaports and our key markets in that country, Dhaka and Chittagong. Our Research and Development Centre is now operational, staffed by teams of experts who will help us to engineer better, cleaner and more efficient products in the future. I am also very pleased to state that the Group as a whole has come together to look after our people amidst the present crises, providing relief allowances and other benefits to help cushion the blow. We are excited about the future and look forward to growing and defending our position as Sri Lanka’s market leader for wood coatings and an emerging giant in the region.”

Since its founding in 1993, JAT Holdings has established itself as a market leader in Sri Lanka for wood coatings and as one of the country’s most promising conglomerates. This is further attested to by accolades such as being ranked amongst Sri Lanka’s ‘Top 100 Most Respected Companies’ by LMD for four years consecutively and also ranking among the ‘Top 20 Conglomerate Brands’ by Brand Finance.

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