A forum titled ‘Doing Business with China: Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and Beyond’ was held recently at On Golden Pond, Taj Samudra Hotel, Colombo. It was organised by Verité Research Limited in partnership with the Exporters’ Association of Sri Lanka.
Coinciding with the title of the forum, the discussions by the guest speakers were based on creating an understanding about the opportunities that are available for the private corporate sector in Sri Lanka when doing business with China and the opportunities that may further arise in the event the proposed FTA between Sri Lanka and China is executed.
A number of participants were present at the forum mainly consisting of those engaged in export trade and those who are interested or already doing business with China. The opening remarks were provided by Mangala P.B. Yapa, Secretary General and the Chief Executive Officer of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce who emphasised on the fact that Sri Lanka is a gateway or a corridor which enables nations to carry out international trade and considering such it is no surprise that China would want to create trade relations with Sri Lanka and it is up to us to utilise this opportunity.
An expert presentation was provided by Subhashini Abeysinghe who is the head of economic research at Verité Research Limited. The presentation consisted of a detailed analytical discussion with the currently available data in relation to the Chinese economy and its positioning in the international market.
Further, a comparison was done between the Chinese and Indian economies, and Abeysinghe drew the audience’s attention to the promising opportunities that prevail by doing business with China in export and in the import trade. Based on the statistical findings and with tea and apparel being the front-runners in the export trade in Sri Lanka, it was disclosed that the Chinese market has high potential which needs to be considered by the tea and apparel sector in Sri Lanka and with the FTA coming into place it will be highly beneficial for the trading between the two nations.
Guest speakers at this forum consisted of Niraj De Mel, Former Secretary General, Tea Exporters’ Association, who provided the potential benefits that prevail for the tea export industry when trading with China and how it is certainly promising compared to the current FTA with India and Pakistan.
Anushka Wijesinghe, Research Economist of Institute of Policy Studies and Deshal De Mel, Senior Economist/Strategic Business Development of Hayleys PLC spoke about their perspective on the export sector and what to expect when trading with China and the practical requirements that need to be addressed prior to creating trading links with China. Yohan Lawrence, the Chairman, Sri Lankan Apparel Exporters’ Association drew attention to the issues pertaining to trading with China by the apparel sector in Sri Lanka and hopes that the FTA will address the prevailing issues and open the export of apparel from Sri Lanka to China which is restricted at the moment. Later on a panel discussion was conducted which was chaired by Dr. Nishan De Mel, the Executive Director of Verité Research Limited with panelists consisting of Anushka Wijesinghe, Deshal De Mel, Yohan Lawrence, Niraj De Mel, Subhashini Abeysinghe and P.D. Fernando, the Former Director General of the Department of Commerce.
During the panel discussion matters were addressed especially with the difficulties faced by the traders in Sri Lanka when doing business in India and Pakistan and it was not surprising that Sri Lankan traders were sceptical about the FTA with China. However P.D. Fernando having the insight as a former government official informed the reasons for the lack of success with the FTAs signed with India and Pakistan and the main reason being the lack of understanding regarding FTAs by such nations and Sri Lanka at the time of signing the agreements since this was each nations first FTA but going forward and by having a better understanding Sri Lanka should be able to enter into an effectual FTA with China but it is up to the government policy makers, negotiators and the private sector to ensure that such FTA addresses our nations requirements. The gold sponsors of the forum were CIMB and NDB Bank, whilst the insurance partner was SLECIC. The media sponsors were, Daily FT, Daily Mirror, Sunday Times, Lankadeepa, Echelon and News 1st.
Published in DailyFT, Sri Lanka on December 18, 2014 (http://www.ft.lk/2014/12/18/doing-business-with-china-free-trade-agreement-and-beyond/). Words by Radhi de Silva.