By Charumini de Silva
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday detailed development plans and the economic framework his Government has for Sri Lanka to woo 250 SAARC investors, as well as calling for more trade and investment cooperation between the South Asian bloc’s member states.
Delivering the keynote address at the annual SAARC Trade Fair and Investment Forum titled ‘Unleashing South Asia’ organised by the Federation of the Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka (FCCISL) and the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he assured that Sri Lanka was committed to becoming the hub of the Indian Ocean.
“With the formation of a Unity Government in September 2015, Sri Lanka created history as the main political parties working together as one was unheard of in South Asia. Though we will contest separately in the upcoming elections, the basic economic framework of the country will not be changed. Within this we have taken a large number of development measures,” he said.
Noting that bringing SAARC together on economic affairs was the key responsibility of business entities, Wickremesinghe stressed that all governments also needed to ensure the ease of doing business among member countries to unleash the region’s full potential and to make it the fastest growing region in the world.
“What matters most is the ease of doing business. Tax does not matter. But connectivity is important and you cannot achieve it without ease of doing business,” he pointed out.
He urged the chambers to now focus on driving a common ease of doing business criteria to unleash potential in SAARC and link up with other regional countries.
Wickremesinghe said the Development Strategies and International Trade Ministry, Finance Ministry and National Policies and Economic Affairs Ministry were now examining the barriers to unleash high economic growth and the steps to push forward sustainable economic policies.
“So we have a plan. It is a question of how fast we can implement these and it will depend on the investments we get. In addition to the foreign investments, we are also giving fairly good incentives to local industries to start business in the industrial zones. The opportunities are open for both foreign and local investors,” he said.
Noting that the Government has clear market access especially with GSP+ while negotiating few free trade agreements (FTAs) with China and Singapore and the Economic and the Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India, the Prime Minister believes those will be in place by next year.
He outlined some major development projects that will take place in the next couple of months, including the Hambantota Industrial Zone and the South-West Economic Corridor starting from Kandy going all the way to Hambantota, which has two airports and harbours. With the support of Singapore’s Surbana Jurong, the Government hopes to develop the Trincomalee Port. In addition, investments looking at the war-torn Northern Province will be given special concessions.
“We hope to make Mattala Airport operational by the end of this year or early next year,” he added.
Furthermore, Wickremesinghe noted that the proposed offshore financial centre of the Port City project will change the landscape of the financial system and Sri Lankan economy, while the completion of the Western Region Megapolis project will make Colombo the largest city in the Indian Ocean.
To tackle any shortcomings in the power sector, the Premier said the Government would set up four LNG plants in the country, while also upgrading telecommunication facilities across the island. Also they will develop heritage buildings and convert famous landmarks designed by renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa into upmarket resorts in the Galle and Matara districts.
- Pix by Lasantha Kumara