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Dealing with Sri Lanka’s true issues

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The recent visit of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sure motivated the country. He said: “This is my first visit to Sri Lanka since 2009, when I saw great suffering and hardship. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced and in need of humanitarian aid after the terrible conflict that tore the country apart.” 

Thereafter he went on to congratulate the country’s current Government and its people for the progress that has been made. But he also mentioned that “there remains much hard work ahead, but you have moved with determination along a new path with great promise for all the country’s people.” I thought this was very interesting.

14In an island nation people need to be governed and democracy needs to be managed

The challenge 

Against this backdrop we have a challenging trade situation where exports in May once again declined 12% YoY, continuing the secular decline seen over the past 18 months which is worrying. While food beverages and rubber products saw YoY increases, tea and textiles exports saw sharp declines, dragging down overall exports. 

Imports in May marginally increased by 0.3% YoY, with consumer goods and intermediate goods decreasing by 6% and 4% respectively, but there was a sharp increase of 18% in investment goods. The reason for the increase in investment goods was largely due to increases in machinery and building materials, which is a positive sign for the recovery of the construction industry in particular which must be due to ongoing projects like Krish, Hyatt and the rebranded financial city.

GDP skewed 

Provincial GDP data as per 2015 depicted that the Western Province dominance of GDP continued, with a slight dip of 0.6% from the previous year. The Southern Province saw the sharpest slowdown from 13.3% in 2014 to 5.7% in 2015, which may be due to the slowing down of projects in that part of the country which was largely targeted by the previous administration.

While it may be encouraging that Northern Province GDP share increased by 0.2%, and GDP growth sped up to 12% in 2015, the issue is that consumer confidence is plummeting at a very rapid speed, something which needs to be addressed. 

In fact some are argue that real democracy does not work in the country and that it has to be curtailed. Many are of the view that island nations must be ruled and cannot be left to absolute democracy, which are interesting thoughts.


"The fact of the matter is that we have a diaspora of around two million plus which has left the country with a negative perspective and it is the voice to the world globally in the absence of a truly strong marketing campaign. I strongly support the appointment of a PR company as a professional marketer. But I must add that only with a supporting global marketing campaign can true synergy be achieved"

Global woes

While we are challenged by these internal issues, in the key export market of the UK we see a sharp decline in output, employment and overall business activity as a result of Brexit. In fact the Bank of England cut rates to a low 0.25% while most major banks have forecast a sharp slowdown in the economy, and the strong likelihood of a recession in the next 12-24 months is not encouraging for Sri Lanka given the $ 1.2 billion exposure it has through the export business. 

While Brexit’s true impact on European economies can only be seen in two years, the fact of the matter is that Brexit will have a wider impact on the European economy as well as the overall economic health of the key market for Sri Lanka which we must keep a tab on. Maybe we must get more aggressive with the trade agreement on TPP.

The problem

In a recent study on the power of nations, Sri Lanka has emerged weak in terms of its brand equity ratings. The hinge on this parameter is the reputation of the country as a society rather than an economy – in simple words, its image abroad. 

The report states that Sri Lanka’s overall reputation is a drag on the country due to the absence of a true understanding of Sri Lanka. In other words people do not know Sri Lanka and its key product features that make it the wonder of Asia.



The fact of the matter is that we have a diaspora of around two million plus which has left the country with a negative perspective and it is the voice to the world in the absence of a truly strong marketing campaign. I strongly support the appointment of a PR 16-Rohantha1company as a professional marketer. But I must add that only with a supporting global marketing campaign can true synergy be achieved.

Currently, the diaspora, which is filled with people who hold influential positions globally, is working to discredit the country and its reconciliation efforts. In my view, while the current Government has moved strongly in the right direction, we as a nation must engage the diaspora on a personal level. 

As nation brand guru Simon Anholst said, the strongest marketing campaign is the voice of the people and this is where Sri Lanka is at a low ebb.

Croatia case

In my mind the best case globally which is similar to Sri Lanka is Croatia. Even though the country gained $ 5 billion in value at a 21.2% growth, it is a case study for the falling EU that has helped the country position itself as a business-friendly European nation and the prospect of getting access to the EU umbrella further strengthened the strong economic agenda of the country.  

However, its lingering association with alleged war crimes that occurred during the Yugoslav war and post-war investigations into them have hurt the brand equity of the country as per the Brand Finance report and that is a key lesson for Sri Lanka, even though the UN Secretary General did not address this issue. 

I believe this issue needs to be carefully studied so that one can pick up the impact of such events on a country’s brand.

Way out

We must develop architecture to drive in a share of voice either with tourism marketing or Ceylon Tea advertising so that Sri Lanka’s brand salience is kept alive from a positive perspective. 

In my view, absence makes the country’s negative aspects hit the headlines. Sri Lanka must look to be a $ 100 billion brand within the next few years, given that in the areas of economic development and infrastructure Sri Lanka is forging strongly ahead.

(The author serves as a director on the boards of several private, public and international organisations).

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