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SL’s canned fish producers say undercutting by importers has badly hit the industry



Calls for a level playing field


Asserting that importers enjoy a competitive edge in Sri Lanka’s canned fish industry, beleaguered local producers called for a level playing field, saying they are “being pushed to the wall due to undercutting”.

The local manufacturers threw a lifeline to the troubled fisheries industry by procuring 700 metric tons of ‘Linna’ (Mackerel fish) in the backdrop of the drastic drop in fish consumption following the eruption of the Peliyagoda Covid-19 cluster, but questions are now being raised whether the move was viable as importers are one step ahead in terms of competitive pricing.

“How can Sri Lanka’s canned fish industry be developed when importers pay a duty of a negligible twenty five cents per kilo on the consignments they inject into the local market?”, asked Kamal Addaraarachchi, a member of the Canned Fish Producers’ Association of Sri Lanka.

This is ridiculous, he protested, adding that importers are given priority to the detriment of the local industry, which remains largely side-lined and fettered in its ambitious drive to boost the country’s economy.

With island-wide consumption at 250,000 cans per day, Sri Lanka imports canned fish worth Rs. 14.43 billion (US$ 78 million) annually. The products come largely from China, while Chile is also a source for procurement.

Though there are seven registered canned fish producing companies in Sri Lanka, only five are in active business, he said.

The local demand for canned fish has shot up as most people now avoid consumption of fish following the Peliyagoda corona outbreak. Canned fish is sold between Rs. 260-300 per 425g and small cans at Rs. 130-150.

However, with no effective price control mechanism coupled with the disruption in distribution, some traders have cashed in on the existing shortages to make a fast buck, consumers complained.

Unlike local producers, importers have no worries as they pay low duties and maintain a substantial margin so much so they can reduce as much as Rs. 25-50 per 425g can at any time and still make a profit, Addaraarachchi claimed.

The government should impose a cess on imported products to encourage local production, he emphasized.

He said that when procuring fish locally, there’s invariably 35% depreciation in terms of quality and another 15% is rejected due to poor handling. The fish that’s turned down is later sold as dry fish by suppliers, which is an unhealthy practice, he noted.

The high rate of rejection is due to non availability of facilities for fishermen to preserve their catch, which is an area that needs priority attention of the authorities to make maximum use of the country’s marine resources, he further said.

“At times, we import frozen fish from Japan, China and Chile to meet production demands”, he continued.

Asked whether the local industry has the capacity to meet the country’s annual demand for canned fish, Addaraarachchi outlined that imports should be gradually phased out until producers geared themselves to enhance production capacity.

Initially, if a stock of 150,000 cans is imported on a daily basis, this can be trimmed to 100,000 in a process that allows local production to systematically meet the shortfall. At the end of the day, the country will be saving a substantial volume of foreign exchange, he explained.

“We don’t want government subsidies. What we are asking for are adequate bank facilities to build up the industry. Within three months, we will be self-sufficient in canned fish and within a year even have excess stocks for export”, he added.

Addaraarachchi said the Association discussed their grievances with Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena, who assured that the issues pertaining to duties (on imports) will be taken up with the Prime Minister and the Finance Ministry.

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There’s nothing prescribed as Parliament has failed to enact legislation for contempt of court — Sumanthiran



TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran, in an intervention in Parliament, said he was privileged to appear for Ranjan Ramanayake, a clean, honest politician in the Supreme Court and he was proud of that.

Nevertheless, Ranjan Ramanayake was convicted and sentenced. The sentence of four years’ rigorous imprisonment was unprecedented and exceptionally severe, and Parliament has a responsibility in this regard because we have not enacted a law for contempt of court, the MP noted.

At the outset, he said, “I want to flag one or two issues concerning the responsibility of the Parliament in this regard. But before I do that I am bound by law and tradition to disclose my interest in the matter. I am the counsel who appeared for Hon. Ranjan Ramanayake in the Supreme Court”.

This has an implication to the article in the constitution that the Hon. Leader of the Opposition just mentioned because it says for an offense for which the prescribed punishment is two years or more. But there’s nothing prescribed, nothing prescribed in the law because for long Parliament has failed to enact legislation for contempt of court, the TNA MP said.

Although there had been in the public as well, a lot of instances where drafts have been made, we have not done that – that is one. And by failing to do that, it has been like the freedom of the wild ass; anything can be given as a sentence and that is not a good thing.  I don’t want to go into the merits of the case or anything like that, but in this case Parliament has to take steps, to enact a law, he further said.

English law is supposed to be the substantive law because we don’t have a statute law now, and in English law itself scandalizing the court is no longer an offence of contempt of court. But unfortunately the court disregarded that, and has misdirected itself – that’s my position, Sumanthiran continued.

“But I want to bring to your notice a serious lacuna in the law with regard to a statue for contempt of court that has resulted in this unprecedented injustice to an honest Member of Parliament”, he added.

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Colombo share market gallops to all time highs



The Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) galloped last week with the benchmark All Share Price Index (ASPI) hitting an all time high on Monday and improving on that performance on subsequent trading days to close the week at 8,463 points on Friday. The more liquid S&P Index that normally trails the ASPI also gained sharply though less so than the benchmark index.

Brokers and analysts attributed the surge to prevailing low interest rates and said that people holding funds in fixed interest instruments have seen greater potential in the stock market and have so far not been proved wrong.

“Take the case of vehicle importers,” said one businessman. “With imports disallowed, cash that would have been once used to replenish inventory becomes available for investment elsewhere. The stock market is a magnet for such funds.”

Also, many companies have resorted to a share split strategy to make their shares both more liquid and more affordable on the market.

“Take the example of a fifty-rupee share split into two. Theoretically, it should then trade at Rs. 25 a share after the split. But often it does better than that at no cost to the company that had split the share because its stated capital remains what it was,” explained and analyst.

“It’s different in the case of bonus shares or scrip issues as they are called where reserves are capitalized to pay for the new shares priced at realistic values.”

Last week the Hayleys conglomerate announced share splits in over a dozen group companies. These ranged from each share being split into ten in the parent company (Hayleys) and thriving subsidiaries like Haycarb and Dipped Products while other companies like Kingsbury split a share into two.

Brokers and analysts said that the current market surge was largely driven by the Dhammika Perera controlled Hayleys and the Ishara Nanayakkara controlled LOLC groups.

Last week Hayleys announced over a dozen share splits including in its recently acquired Singer Group companies. The majority of these involved dividing each share into two though at Singer Sri Lanka each share will be split into three.

The biggest share split ever proposed is one that is pending at EB Creasy (EBC) where each share is to be split into 100. The seldom traded EBC share is quoted at the top end of the CSE sharelist. Analysts said the massive split is intended to pump liquidity into the share and make it more affordable.

“There’s a lot of retail play in the market right now with new investors who recently took some risk doing very nicely in this bull run,” a broker said.

The CSE hit rock bottom after a seven-week closure in March last year.



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Covid-19 has now spread geographically across SL



In small numbers to an extensive region

Pandemic situation in Western Province improves

by Suresh Perera

Though there are no big Covid-19 clusters at present, the dreaded virus has spread geographically across the country due to the unrestricted movement of people, a senior medical official said.

“The transmission of the contagion in small numbers to an extensive region was inevitable in a society which remains ‘open’ with inter-provincial travel happening on a daily basis”, says Dr. Hemantha Herath, Deputy Director of Public Health Services.

He said the spillover from the Western province was expected as there was an outflow of people to other districts particularly during the festive season.

“I am not blaming anybody, but a lockdown was not viable when taking into account the economic consequences and the livelihoods of the people. We could have imposed a curfew to restrict travel during the New Year, but we have to consider the fallout of such a measure”, he noted.

It true that geographically numbers have increased within a wide area, but the numbers are small and there are no big clusters as seen at Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda, the senior medical official explained.

Asked whether the pandemic has translated into a community spread as considerable positive cases continue to emerge on a daily basis, Dr. Herath replied, “no, that has not happened. If the Covid-19 situation was beyond control, we would have made a social and community transmission declaration”.

He said the pandemic situation in the Western province has improved with a dip in positive cases. However, the spillover is evident by the jump in figures at provincial level.

“We knew there was a risk, but we had to take it as locking down the country was not the solution

For example, if a Covid-19 patient infects two persons per day, there will be 200 positive cases within 100 days and one can imagine the critical situation that will emerge if the trend is allowed to continue, Dr. Herath continued.

“We are now managing under 1,000 cases per day”, he said, while assuring that the right mechanism is in place to identify positive cases through PCR and rapid antigen screening and place them under medical treatment, isolate and quarantine first contacts of patients”, he further said.

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