National Export Strategy for Sri Lanka: Prerequisite for economic development

Tuesday, 14 November 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sri Lanka’s economy needs to transform itself to ensure that the nation’s aspirations to reach higher middle income status by the year 2020 are met and achieved. This transformation can take place by introducing innovative and radical changes to Sri Lanka’s current economic development model. 

Sri Lanka’s economic growth, which is dependent on exports, requires continued structural changes aimed at greater diversification, innovation, productivity increases. As per President Maithripala Sirisena’s statement at the 45th Annual Session of the International Pepper Community held at the Earl’s Regency, Kandy, it is also required to have a dynamic plan to increase the agricultural exports, while endorsing quantitative and qualitative standards of the agricultural crops.  In addition, the development of services, in particular, a dynamic and modern information technology sector will contribute significantly to economic growth and prosperity. 

The National Export Strategy (NES) has been developed by private and public stakeholders through extensive consultations which commenced from the First National Symposium held in April 2017 at Temple Trees, under the patronage of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. During these consultations, a strategic vision for Sri Lanka’s export growth was developed: ‘Sri Lanka – An Export Hub driven by Innovation and Investment’. 

Six priority sectors and four trade support functions (TSF) were identified by the private and public stakeholders at the consultations. These focus on diversification through support to the priority sectors which are ICT, Wellness Tourism, Spice Concentrates, Boat Building, Processed Food & Beverages, and Electronic, Electrical and Machinery.  

All export sectors including the mature sectors will benefit from the strengthening of trade support functions. These TSFs include National Quality Infrastructure, Innovation and R&D, Logistics and Trade Promotion. The NES for Sri Lanka is being designed by the Ministry of Development Strategies & International Trade and the Sri Lanka Export Development Board (EDB) in consultation with private and public stakeholders. 

Technical Assistance to develop the NES is provided by the International Trade Centre (ITC) through funding by the European Union (EU), this technical assistance will aid Sri Lanka’s economic vision of strengthening the export competitiveness of the private sector to accomplish inclusive and sustainable growth. 

The consultative process leads public sector institutions and private sector enterprises to design a common and agreed plan for growing and diversifying Sri Lanka’s export products and reaching new target destinations. Moreover, the focus on some of these sectors will help to invigorate rural economies and create many new employment opportunities. This is part of the Sri Lankan Government’s drive to achieve a target of $ 20 billion in exports revenue by 2020.

These priority sectors, chosen by the stakeholders, were selected on the basis that focus on these sectors may have the optimal desired impact on the Sri Lankan export economy. The Sri Lankan markets will benefit significantly from foreign investment and these sectors were identified as having the greatest potential in the next five years to attract foreign investment. This has the potential to lead to setting up of international partnerships to benefit local markets and make the most of the current Free Trade Agreements already in place. In relation to each sector, one of the main objectives of the consultations was to seek answers to three questions; the Current status; Future goals; and, Steps or actions to reach the destination. Answers to these questions are expected to help strengthen these sectors and contribute to innovative export led growth. 

The second round of Consultative Meetings were held from 12-20 July, to define roadmaps for expanding exports and analyses performances of value chains for the NES focus sectors, market orientations, challenges and opportunities. The Trade Support Functions groups identified the main challenges in the provision of quality and affordable trade support services to Sri Lanka Exporters. Subsequently, regional and sector specific public and private stakeholder consultations were conducted, to confirm trade diagnostics, value chain performances, market orientation and strategic issues, with the ultimate objective to design strategies to improve the industry performance. 

Two rounds of sector consultations for each individual sector were conducted at the EDB, from 8 August to 8 September. Regional consultations were held in the Central, Northern and Southern Provinces from 18 to 22 September, to engage Regional Stakeholders and to ensure that regional concerns, requirements and specificities are fully integrated in strategic decision making.

The overview of the strategy design process and the reviewing and validation of the initial results were done at the 3rd consultation which took place from 10 to 12 October. Based on the NES vision and strategic objectives, a list of high priority export development interventions was identified for integration in the November 2018 National Budget.

The successful implementation of Sri Lanka’s National Export Strategy depends on the capacity and willingness of all public and private sector stakeholders to contribute, collaborate, own and drive towards a common national objective. Priorities need to be implemented at the earliest possible opportunity and the frequency of regular and structured public-private dialogues will be critical to maintain the momentum needed.