Exporters focus on undisrupted operations

Saturday, 24 April 2021 01:16 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Concerned over increased infection rates but want to work closely with Govt. 
  • NCE to discuss possibility of issuing curfew passes to member companies 
  • Apparel already 10% behind targets, readying to comply with regulations 

Export industry stakeholders yesterday voiced concern over increased infections and said they were making arrangements to ensure undisrupted operations, especially as key sector apparel was already 10% behind their $ 5.1 billion target for 2021.

National Chamber of Exporters (NCE) Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer Shiham Marikar told Daily FT the organisation will be reaching out to the Health Ministry early next week to discuss the possibility of permitting the Chamber to issue curfew passes to its member companies.

The NCE is also in close contact with the Government to keep track of the latest regulations and updates and communicates them to member companies.

“We are planning to approach the Health Ministry asking them to allow us as a Chamber to provide the required curfew passes to our member companies. Last year, providing curfew passes was done by one or two State organisations,” he said, explaining that the Export Development Board and various police stations issued passes.

However, in order to avoid delays and prevent crowds from gathering at police stations, the Chamber is coming forth with a proposal to streamline the process.

Last year, when movement restrictions were imposed with a nationwide lockdown, production was affected because workers could not easily report to work. Delays in shipments and the cancellation of orders were also results of these regulations.

“That did not go smoothly because there were difficulties in obtaining passes. Since we have around 650 members who are all exporters who have factories in various places in Sri Lanka and are very closely working with them, we are going to request the Health Ministry to allow us as a Chamber to provide these curfew passes to our members,” Marikar said.

He stressed that this would be done on the agreement that all required safety and health regulations will be followed by the companies. The Chamber will ensure the passes are not misused.

This would be extremely beneficial to the export sector as well the country as a whole. “Export is required right now to generate the required foreign currency to the country,” Marikar said, adding that the inability to deliver an order could lead to exporters losing buyers and the trust regained over the months.

A total lockdown will be major setback to the industry, Marikar said. “Right now, exporters are finding it difficult to plan for more than two or three months. Usually, exporters plan for three or four years,” he said, explaining that the uncertainty posed by the pandemic has made long-term planning a challenge.

However, orders have been picking up since vaccination and the easing of regulations. In general, export companies have been able to secure orders for the next two to three months. This applies to industries like tea, spices, perishables, and rubber-related products, as well as apparel.

In terms of the local apparel industry, the Joint Apparel Association Forum Sri Lanka (JAAFSL) states that they are currently 10% short compared to the 2019 figure in order to achieve the target of $ 5.1 billion.

According to JAAFSL Secretary General MPT Cooray, any further disturbances to production will be a setback.

With the rising number of COVID-19 patients detected in the island, concerns have been raised about movement restrictions or a lockdown. While the Government has no plans to enforce lockdown yet, Cooray said the apparel industry would comply with any regulations and restrictions imposed by the Government.

“We advised the Government that we are very worried about the New Year holiday and that there could be a serious problem. We really do not know what is happening at this moment of time but if the Government as a result of the spreading of COVID-19 creates certain restrictions, we will have to go by that, there is no doubt about it,” Cooray said.

According to him, the only request they have made from the Government is the right to operate. He added that the decision is not only up to the Government, as the safety of the people of Sri Lanka must be considered as well.