EDB turns 33

Friday, 3 August 2012 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A recollection of collective victory

The Sri Lanka Export Development Board (EDB) celebrates its 33rd anniversary in August 2012. EDB deserves a high degree of praise for its remarkable contribution made toward the socioeconomic development of the country, the key national institution for export development and promotion during the last 33 years, sharing its responsibility to the nation.

Sri Lanka Export Development Board (EDB) was established on 1 August 1979 under Sri Lanka Export Development Act No. 40 of 1979

Sri Lanka holds the ownership of a proud history on export trade encouraged by an established background profusely full of natural resources and its strategic location. However the export trade in Sri Lanka has changed historically, politically and economically during the past.

Since independence from the British, Sri Lanka continued to follow the traditional export trade system till late 1950s as developed by the colonial rulers. Sri Lanka later followed her export trade under the import substitute economy from 1959 to 1977.

In the latter part of 1970s, Sri Lanka introduced market oriented economy also known as open economy. The main objective of market economic policy was to remove the barriers in trade locally and create export oriented economy.

The main goal of creating an export oriented economy was to develop product and services from Sri Lanka to present to the giant world market. It has been realised the necessity of a complete institutional framework and infrastructure in order to achieve this goal. Development of ports, implementation of Free Trade Zones and establishment of SLECIC are a few examples.

Establishing the EDB

The establishment of Sri Lanka Export Development Board, a national need for institutional framework for development and promotion of export trade, was a distinctive step taken by the authorities.

In the 1970s, the International Trade Center (ITC), the United Nations Conference on Development of Trade & Tariffs pushed the establishment of Trade Promotion Organisations (TPO) in member nations with the objective of promotional development of export trade. The establishment of the Export Promotion Secretariat in 1972 by Sri Lanka to support export development unfortunately became a fiasco.

Sri Lanka Export Development Board (EDB) was established on 1 August 1979 under Sri Lanka Export Development Act No. 40 of 1979. The first significant step of this Act was to enforce EDB with wide powers on export promotion and development for performance of its duty at the highest standard in the best interest of the nation.

The structure established for the EDB was unique. An Export Development Council of Ministers was formed under the Chairmanship of the President. The Ministers of Trade and Shipping, Industries, Fisheries, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Planning and Rural Industries were the other members of the Council.

The objective of the Council was to advise EDB with directives for prompt execution of the decisions taken by the Export Development Council of Ministers. This feature could not be perceived in any of the government institutes. Hence it is an attempt of a direct showcase of national interest on export promotion.

As a leading Government institution in respect of export development , EDB was entrusted with duties of greater responsibility such as to advise the Council of Ministers on national export development policy; to formulate National Export Development Plans; to facilitate the supply and diversification of products and services; execution of research and market development programs; to help resolve the issues involving the exporters within the government; develop exporting skills; extend advisory assistance to the exporters and improve international relationship with related agencies et al.

EDB accomplishments

Remarkably, the contribution made by EDB in the development work was enormous during the last 33 years. Preparation and implementation of four export development plans, implementation of one strategic plan, simplification of export procedure, organising more than a 100 forums (Exporters’ Forums, Samtha Piyasa) sorting out the problems of the export community, appreciation of export production with 19 Presidential Export Awards, formulation and implementation of the financial assistance schemes such as duty rebate scheme to reimburse at the point of export duties paid for imports, export performance oriented incentive payments scheme, Temporary Importation for Export Processing (TIEP) scheme, Dahasdiriya scheme, direct financial assistance schemes to support export ventures, exporters’ own marketing effort schemes, organising buyers-sellers meetings , trade fair participations, solo country exhibitions, inward and outward missions, four massive expo exhibitions, regional expo exhibitions, operation of trade centres and export promotion windows in selected countries, training programs for entrepreneur development, supply development programs, branding strategy for Sri Lankan products such as Ceylon Cinnamon, Sri Lanka pineapple, export production villages, integrated agricultural development programs, publishing Business Lanka Magazine, Expo Lanka Magazine, implementation of e-commerce and portal system, strengthening relationship with international promotional organisations and EDB overseas counterparts, etc. are its accomplishments. In keeping with Government policy EDB has given special attention to supporting SME development.

As of today the output of product and services from Sri Lanka exceed 3,500 the efflorescence demonstrated by the development of supply base, diversification of products and services and export markets and introduction of new products made during the last 33 years.

It has been possible to maintain the average growth rate of exports by 7% in the past few years. A proximate number of 4,500 exporters are directly involved in export trade while 6,000 are indirectly engaged in exports in addition to those firms affiliated with export sector in handling shipping, insurance and packing etc as required.

Remarkably this vast progression of development has opened avenues of employment opportunities in greater extent uplifting the social life of the nation. EDB is complacent with slender pleasure as a responsible partner to the progressive development of the export trade by its dedicated contribution made during the years.

The success of these achievements is an indication of its high contribution made to the national economy during the last 33 years due to the dedicated sacrifice showcased by the qualified staff since inception of the EDB under great leadership of those pioneers of the EDB.

New strategic approach

Today EDB is obligated to move with the changing global scenario like globalisation, advanced information technology, huge competitiveness and social changes. Apparently market products and services in future would be by space marketing through wireless communication making the lifecycle of products shorter.

Braving the future challenges if any it is therefore essential for EDB to effect a structural change with new strategic approach by strengthening its Information and Communication Technology and e-commerce areas.

EDB owns the competent skills to meet the challenges from the local and global changes of the atmosphere. It is extremely important in the interest of the nation to appoint the reputable high office of the management with intellectual professionals of competence as a constructive effort on promotional development of export trade against international challenges ahead.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the Budget speech of 2012 highlighted the vital importance of the development of export trade and its national value given high priority for export trade. The Government has taken progressive steps for the export development specially the implementation of its strategic plan with a projected target of US$ 15 billion in the 2015.

With the ongoing speedy development of international trade, a major responsibility is cast upon EDB to give thought to opening trade centres, display windows, development of export trading houses, appointing official trade representatives and placing high priority for brand promotion in its endeavour to revitalise the primordial superiority of its achievements.

In recognition of the effective performance of the above initiatives that brought incredible success during yesteryears, EDB may appositely take adequate measures to implement them once operative with resounding success. Most importantly, the image of the country with its high reputation for manufacture of quality products and its specialties such as green and ethical practices should be given publicity through international mass media communication.

SMEs and exporters

Today 85% of Sri Lankan exports are made by SMES. In previous years various SME projects for product and marketing development programs were organised by EDB with high priority for promotion of SMEs.

While appreciating the role played for development of SMEs, 60 exporters among 4,600 Sri Lankan exporters have made their share of responsibility by 50% of the total export value. It is obvious that these 60 exporters have made the highest contribution towards social and economic development by the strength of its huge labour force employed with a commendable social responsibility.

A difficult entrepreneurial problem faced by an exporter is liable to cause adverse effect on the economy. Hence, it should be the bounden responsibility of the EDB to find out difficult issues and challenges if any obstructive of the quality production that needs immediate solution with due assistance to the leading exporters in recognition of their vital importance of the role played to enrich the national economy.

It is also advisable if direct communication is maintained in support of ascertaining their needs of aid for production to compete with the global market. The absence of this very fact of essential move to influence the export traders adversely affects the promotional development on the part of EDB as a leading export promotional organisation.

Immediate priority

The immediate priority of the EDB may be focused on encouragement to exporters for utilisation of opportunities abundantly available in north and east under massive development projects already operative in the war torn region. The vast expansion of investment initiatives and surge in tourism industry swelled in the war affected provinces has conspicuously reached a record high.

In recognition of its past experience EDB owes a debt of responsibility to select qualified new exporters from north and east; encourage investment; revival of exporters of the early 1980s in these areas; identify new products and develop Beach de Mar, palmyrah products, tobacco, natural mineral based products and agricultural products, etc., being contributory sources of export earnings in the early 1980s.

Rural industry development

Rural industry development has been earmarked as a high priority area under the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ National Policy in due recognition to the enormous contribution made by the rural areas towards national development.

The need for equal distribution of export turn over to rural areas and decentralisation of the export production with opportunities and necessary requisites made available to villagers is a sine qua non in order to raise the standard of their lifestyle.

Currently, export promotion villages and integrated agricultural model projects covering vast area of the country are in the process of strengthening closer relationship between the rural producer and the exporter.

The EDB recently put muscles on the expansion of its regional net work by establishment of new regional offices in the Districts of Ampara, Hambantota, Badulla and Mannar in addition to its existing branch offices in Galle, Kandy and Kurunegala for a constructive progression.

Significantly, it is also the responsibility of the EDB to take necessary measures to identify the new resources available in rural areas linked with projects of other Departments, NGOs, and develop production in an attempt to meet the demands of the international market.

 Invaluable contribution

Today EDB can preen itself upon the invaluable contribution made towards economic and social development of Sri Lanka. EDB took a greater initiative not only on foreign exchange earnings to the country, but also in building up the brand name ‘Sri Lanka,’ enhancing the country’s image around the globe.

The excellent work performed by the skilled and experienced staff during the last 33 years with strategic approach to help improve the national economy braving global challenges through a difficult period of time should be greatly appreciated.

It is also a great pleasure to note that the business community and the entire nation have recognised the significant role played by EDB to enrich the national economy. The EDB must continue to exert its superb competence to serve the nation without harming its everlasting theme, ‘Sri Lankan Pride across the World – EDB’.

(The writer is the former Head of Corporate Affairs and Communications of Sri Lanka Export Development Board. He can be reached on [email protected])

Recent columns