‘Rebuild Sri Lanka’ by Derana TV Channel
Posted on September 27th, 2022

Sugath Kulatunga,

Derana TV Channel must be congratulated on the new program they have introduced under the title ‘Rebuild Sri Lanka’ and brilliantly conducted by the dynamic Chatura de Alwis. I hope other channels also follow this example and devote more time on development issues rather than wasting time on never ending cheap TV drama and on longer and cheaper and violent Tamil films.

The recent discussion was with a distinguished panel consisting of Chairman EDB, Chairman Tea Board and a very knowledgeable representative from the apparel sector. The discussion was well focused on different aspects of export development based on statistical tables well presented by Chatura. It was a delight to note that the discussion was pivoted on the balance of trade issue, a subject criminally overlooked by all governments for decades.

Discussion was more oriented towards marketing and brought out key issues and possible solutions. The country -wise segmentation of the marketing of tea was a valuable idea. The importance of anticipating global changes in market development was another excellent concept. Without taking away of the many astute ideas that were discussed I would have liked if some of the following themes were also covered.

Sri Lanka is not a large-scale producer other than in commodities and garments. In other areas of small volumes, we should resort to niche marketing. It was revealed that as the small and medium scale enterprises contribute to around 80% of the production in the economy, they should be supported to venture into the international market. I hope that this is confined to medium scale sector and not to the small-scale sector which is not equipped for export marketing other than perhaps in the services sector like BPO. In many countries, SMEs work on subcontract production arrangement with large enterprises. This is an area that we should focus on without encouraging less export ready small enterprises to enter the international market. In a previous FB post, I described how an emerging and very productive subcontract production system was preempted by the 200 garment factories project. A crying need for prospective SMEs is a portfolio of feasibility studies which we do not have.

One more suggestion to introduce new technology and increase exports is to have special incentives for pioneering projects. An earlier EDB scheme for this was offhandedly abandoned by a previous management. Ironically recently India has announced an outlay of INR 1.97 Lakh Crores for the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Schemes across 14 key sectors, to create national manufacturing champions.

Value addition as a priority strategy was stressed but not many specific suggestions emerged. There is space for value addition even in our major commodities. For instance, in Tea, we could promote more branded teas like Dilmah. In the 1960s there was an instant tea formula which was tested by the CISIR. One does not know what happened to that. Now with Nano technology, even a nano urea has been produced. Our scientists should be encouraged to work on an instant tea like the instant coffee.

It is known that the best value in rubber products is from latex products. Should we not increase production of latex to be converted into high value latex-based manufactures? Among coconut products we should focus on the product fetching the highest value. Coconut oil is too valuable to be sold as a cooking oil. It could be converted into cosmetics.

We are very proud of our spices, but we have not made use of that high quality in producing and marketing value added products. There should be a tax on the export of raw export of spices which should be channeled to enhance value addition. Is it not possible at least to introduce a SL branded spice pack? In spices like pepper and cinnamon we need to focus on supplying a more processed product demanded by the end users. Colombo Dockyard has demonstrated the ability of the country for high tech and high value products like ship building. They should be supported to expand.

In promoting Exports and investment of Sri Lanka the diplomatic and trade representatives of the country should play a more active role. Our representatives in the developed countries should be given a target of at least one investment proposal and one new import opportunity once every year. Diplomats would argue that they have a more important function of political representation. The impact of their political representation could be gauged from the number of votes and the number of abstentions by the countries they represent on resolutions against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. It is also time that we go beyond country promotion in investment but engage in the promotion of specific projects like oil exploration and alternate energy.

It would be useful if these discussions are open to comments by viewers by text messages rather than by voice which consumes more time. Only the more relevant text messages could be taken for discussion. I wish the Rebuild Sri Lanka program every success. I am glad that it is not titled ‘Regaining Sri Lanka”.

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