Speech by Ambassador Sarath Wijesinghe before the Sri Lankan Business Chamber in UAE
Posted on June 6th, 2010

Press Release

Initially I thank Mr. Farook Kassim and Mr Wasantha Senanayaka for having initiated this discussion and inviting me for the occasion, which I feel is unique and important during this transitional period in international affairs, world affairs and economic affairs on this part of the world. I thank the Executive Committee of the Sri Lankan business council Dubai for excellent arrangements made within short notice.

 World economy was badly hit during the last few years resulting deep down tern economically in most of the developed and developing counties. Western block is the worst affected, followed by the countries in the Middle East excluding China and India two engines of growth and nations eye marked to be two future world power blocks! Middle East – especially GCC countries managed to sustain the economy downturns mainly due to high oil prices coupled with economic and financial stability. UAE and Sri Lanka went through mild attacks when powerful economies were bleeding and going through worst patches in their history.

 Security and Stability are paramount for the success of a Nation. The secret of success of the humanitarian operation in Sri Lanka is the change of the mindset of the people and give them the confidence of the victory. At some stage the world was of the view that LTTE was a force that could not be defeated. Entire nation was behind President Rajapaksa and backed him by voting him at successive elections giving mandate after mandate to continue as a Trustee of the nation as stated in the policy document as follows

 “This earth and vegetation is yours. But they should be protected not only for your benefit but also for the benefit of future generation. A ruler is only a temporary trustee and not an owner of your children’s heritage” ( Mahinda Cahintana Policy Document)

 This is a consolidation of his vision as an emerging just ruler who has won the hearts of the nation and the international community.

  During the last phase of the humanitarian operations the pressure from some NGO’s and some power blocks were high. They did not suggest alternatives or suggestions. Fortunately we had good friends in need including Middle East headed by UAE the emerging wonder of the Middle East extending unlimited and unreserved support and assistance when we were in need of help which President Rajapaksa and the Nation is ever grateful for. We proved the world that our forces are professional and one of the most disciplined forces by liberating 300000 citizens, 1/3rd of the land 2/3rd of the sea front from the clutches of the most powerful and ruthless terrorists in the world with minimum casualties when LTTE was using innocent civilians as a human shields at the last phase of the war.

 Stability and Political Stabilities are pre requisites for investor confidence. There is Economic Equality and investor friendly atmosphere as a result of new found freedom and economic boom. The stock marking is flourishing and Sri Lanka is considered one of the best tourist destinations.

 We are Sri Lankans engage in businesses in the “Hub” of Middle East which is one of the richest and dynamic economies.  We find them as excellent managers managing the natural resources inherited which is enormous and which has potential to run over the next few hundred years.  We Sri Lankans sadly have not realized our own valuable resources out of which environment, beauty, precious gems and more over the human resources which is far more valuable than any other material assets.  We are aware that knowledge is power (which has brought about miracles today – thanks to this powerful knowledge we can go round the world with a click of a mouse and modern technology has revolutionized the political and economical world order and landscapes in our Globe.  Take for example medical treatment has become so advanced that the operations are conducted successfully via catheters.

 Historically we were agriculturalists, yet facilitated businessmen worldwide. From time immemorial businessmen came to our country from all over the world especially from the Middle East as traders.  We were very tolerant and facilitated trade.  Our Kings allowed the businessmen to set up businesses and even to set up mosques in Sri Lanka from time immemorial.

 I am sure, you prefer to hear from me about Sri Lanka which is an emerging market going to be the newest growth center in Asia. The country which was one time known as a “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” became the “Tear drop of the Indian Ocean” and now with the able leadership of His Excellency the President, Mahinda Rajapakse, within a very short period of time the country was rescued from drowning in the ethnic conflict and established real freedom and now we are looking forward to achieve economic freedom for its people. While many other countries’ economies are declining, immediately after the elimination of the evil separatism the Sri Lankan economy started growing day by day without much effort by the government or any other authority.

 Now the government has identified a number of areas where economic development is targeted and economic sectors such as tourism, manufacturing and agriculture sectors followed by a slow but steady growth of construction area are clearly visible in the post conflict period which has completed only one year from the victory day of 18th May 2009.

 Tourism is the fastest growing area and you may find it extremely difficult to reserve a hotel room even now as tourist inflow has increased by many folds during the year which I have mentioned above.

 Before we go to learn about the present situation in Sri Lanka, we may look at our existing relationship with the Middle Eastern countries, specially, our trade and investments relationship with the UAE. Out of the total exports to the world, Sri Lanka’s exports to the Middle East is around 7% and our imports from the Middle East is around 12% of the total imports from abroad.

 If we take the Sri Lanka’s exports to the Middle East for the last number of years, it is on the increase. Sri Lanka’s imports from the Middle East also on the increase thereby a total trade imports and exports both together are on the increase. Out of the total exports of Sri Lanka products to the Middle East, UAE counts the number one position totaling US$ 210 Mn in the year 2009. Our exports to UAE is continuously on the increase. Iran, Syria, Israel are the next three countries to which Sri Lanka exports significantly.

 If we take the import and export statistics between Sri Lanka and UAE, our total trade imports and exports both are on the increase. Our total exports in the year 2009 are reported as US$ 211 Mn and our total imports reported as US$ 316 Mn. The balance of trade is in favour of UAE. Out of our total exports, tea represents around 60% out of the total exports of US$ 211 Mn. The second most important item of our export list is apparel and clothing.

 Desiccated coconut is also an item that has got an important place in our export list. Edible vegetables and fruits etc. also reported as the third important item in our export list. Out of the industrial products, ceramic tableware and kitchen ware has marked their presence as the number one manufacture product next to clothing. Out of the total list of exports, there are important new products entering into the market from this year. They are palm oil, pneumatic rubber tyres, nutmeg, iron and steel articles, machinery parts, bicycle tyres are a few other items entering into the UAE market not in large quantities, but with potential to grow in volumes. I am sure, there are some importers among you who are importing from Sri Lanka and you may have a better list than the official list which I have obtained from the Sri Lanka Customs. While the trade is continuing, there are some issues, particularly non payment of sales proceeds by companies affected by the global economic slow down during the last few years. A few companies have sought our intervention to arrive at an amicable solution to disputes of non payment of sales proceeds.

 If we take the investment side, UAE is the number one or rather the largest investor from the Middle East. If I mention a few names “”…” SriLankan Airlines, Hotel Galadari, ETA Flour Mill, Associated Motorways, Tigo are some of the large investments by the UAE companies. I am told that there is a significant interest to invest in Sri Lanka by the UAE companies. We are hoping to organize a seminar to address the prospective investors in the near future so that we can generate good impression on Sri Lanka particularly after the elimination of terrorism from the country.

 As per the BOI statistics, UAE rank as number 13 important country which has invested in nine large projects and FDI inflow in the year 2009 was around US$ 16,000 Mn.

 It is also worth mentioning the tourism side is one of the promising growth area in Sri Lanka. The eastern coast and the northern part of Sri Lanka are now open for tourists and I am aware that a large number of tourists are entering the country and special emphasis were given by the Government of Sri Lanka to the Middle East travelers and tourism at large. The North and East are full of wildlife and virgin forests and land has been the “Rice Bowl” of the nation. Now it is open for tourism, business and industry with one of the best harbors in the world. Incidentally five new harbors and one international airport are currently under construction.

 In the political side, Sri Lanka is a friend of Middle East. Throughout the history we supported the Middle East in world affairs and our relationship with the UAE is in its highest levels.  

Now we look at the opportunities in Sri Lanka. Immediately after the elimination of terrorism, the government gave special attention to the North and East areas under its two integrated programs viz. Neganahira Navodaya and Uthuru Wasanthaya.

 In this connection, I would like to draw your attention to the vision “Mahinda Chintana” and His Excellency the President’s statement on the 62nd Anniversary of Independence which clearly states where the country is heading for.

 “Our country which fell back in progress because of the war needs to be advanced swiftly. Peace alone is not enough. An efficient, advanced nation needs to be built to replace a country which is lazy, lethargic and lacks energy. It is meaningless to blame our nation for its inefficiency whilst referring to the efficiency and progress of other countries. We proved at the recent overwhelming victory that our people could overtake them.

 In the development of the country the private sector too has a responsibility similar to that of the public sector. There is a better environment for the private sector which was at a standstill during the war. I expect a public service which can take quick decisions and which is people friendly. I will make the government service a service for the public.

 You are aware that during the operation to defend the country, I protected the heroes who fought for the country. I represented them everywhere, and now in the nation building process, I will protect the honest and skilled people who work for the betterment of the country. The country cannot be developed with harassment, gross punishments or by the gun. Discipline is not revenge. The nation can only be built through commitment, discipline and elimination of corruption.

 In the Mahinda Chintana, we mentioned that Sri Lanka will be made a center of marine, aviation, commercial, energy and knowledge. You may feel that this target is very far. But we will bring the benefits of these five great economic forces closer to your feet in the near future in order to end the era of sorrow and tears. We will give more opportunities to artistes, authors, musicians so that the yield of their creativity would enhance the contentment of the society.

 We will make this a country where people return to, instead of leave for fear of life or poverty. We need to remove the bureaucratic hurdles on the path to economic development as we removed road barriers. My people were at a standstill for thirty years because of terrorists. Now this era is over. We will create a country where people can live at ease.

 I implore the separatist forces and local and international conspirators not to underestimate our motherland and the people of this nation. “

 We have a leader with a very clear vision where the country is heading for. I would like to invite all of you to come to Sri Lanka without delay and take the opportunities that are available in far away areas such as Eastern Province, down south, hill country for your dream projects and create the motherland for your sons and grandsons. In the near future, we are organizing seminars to educate the prospective investors and businessmen and also will organize delegations to Sri Lanka to look for by themselves the opportunities with the help of the Board of Investments and Chamber of Commerce. You may please contact the Consul General in Dubai and myself in Abu Dhabi if you are interested to join such activities. You may also invite your business colleagues to join with us in this exercise.

 History is not static; it changes from era to era. Both UAE and Sri Lanka is bestowed with great histories and civilizations for which we can be proud of ad learn from.   We have disproved the general notion worldwide that terrorism cannot be crushed militarily.  Thanks to the political vision and leadership of His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa, his able Defense Secretary, Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the armed forces that we have eradicated terrorism completely haunting us three decades destabilizing our day to day life and causing destruction to hundreds of thousands of human beings and public property led to bleeding of the Nation for so long.  It is definitely miraculous and has proved that we still can perform miracles.  His Excellency Rajapaksa’s vision and mission is to raise Sri Lanka to the position of the wonder and miracle of Asia economically politically and in all other respects.  By looking at what other countries has achieved and also what they could not achieve I have little doubt that we can achieve our goal in  the next five years based on the vision and policies of Mahinda Rakapaksa regime and his policies besed on “Mahidna Chintana”. ( the policy document of President mahinda Rajapaksa)

The main obstruction to any nation for development is insecurity and instability.  Now we have bypassed these two main obstacles and proved the world watching disbelief the success on humanitarian operations of the success of the unwinnable war that nothing is impossible for Sri Lanka.  Today we are completely free from terrorism.  I say this with confidence, through my own experiences as an academic and a lawyer lived most of my life in London that Sri Lanka today is safer to live and to engage in business than any other country in the world including United Kingdom. This is a great achievement and a pre requisite for a successful business environment and investor confidence.

  It is an achievement and also encouragement for investors to invest in the free economy which are the best human rights mechanism and also excellent atmosphere for business.  In the free economy  business is free, there are opportunities for off shore companies to invest by way of BOI in which all safeguards are given for foreign investors.  Our work force is hard working, intelligent and dedicated.  Our rate of working literacy is one of the highest in Asia.  Our infrastructure in Colombo is excellent.  Our road net work is good as or better than the road network in the UK.  Living conditions are excellent with chains of hotels and public markets which are not second to any other supermarkets anywhere in the world where food and all the other consumer items are comparatively cheap and in abundance. 

 The human resources are in abundance in Sri Lanka which is being exported to many other countries including UAE where we are living.  In this country, 80 per cent of the total population belongs to foreign nationals in which Sri Lankans are about 250,000.  There are professionals, skilled, semi skilled and ordinary labour forces which are considered to be obedient, hard working, intelligent and educated.

 We thank His Highness for having opened the economy and the freedom for other parts of the world to make use of, and also share the fruits of their wealth given by God for the nationals in UAE.  This is a very generous gesture, when I had the opportunity to meet His Highness for a few minutes during the period I gave credentials.  I found time to tell the King how close we were in thousands of years and to what extent UAE has helped us when we were in difficulties and that in this world family how united we were and also that our friendship extend back to 1970s during the Non-Alignment where His Highnesses father visited to Sri Lanka to take part at the famous Movement which is still the force.   Our President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Foreign Policy is unique based on “ƒ”¹…”Mahinda Chintana’ which is based on Non-Alignment and also his own style of conducting Foreign Policy enhancing close friendships with all the leaders of the world and mostly India, Russia, China and Middle East while maintaining close relationships with the West from whom we have inherited our system of Government, education, language and very many things which we are ever grateful to.

 It is my duty as a representative of His Excellency and also my Government to extend well wishes to you and to extend full support and cooperation on whatever you do for your benefit and also the benefit of the country as a whole which is the need of the hour.  We are good agriculturalists and we are a very friendly educated group of people.  Why cannot we be good businessmen?  Certainly we can.  I encourage you to do well and accept our warn welcome and hands for you to prosper in this country and to take whatever possible to help your country and motherland.

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