Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama
Dhaka and Colombo can have a win-win in the apparel sector, by utilising the advantages of each country, Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama said, concluding a two-day visit to Dhaka last week.
In the capacity of International Trade Minister, Samarawickrama met his Bangladesh counterpart Tofail Ahmed and leaders of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturing and Exporters Association (BGMEA). Samarawickrama, the Immediate Past President of the United National Party, one of the members of the Coalition Government, said he was impressed with the development of Bangladesh and felt his country could pursue the policies of Bangladesh for
The full text of the interview with Minister Samarawickrama by Prothom Alo is given below:
Q: How do you look at Bangladesh, now that it has reached a different capacity?
A: There has been tremendous improvement over the last 30 years. And we are greatly impressed with the economic development of Bangladesh. I am often informed by our people in Sri Lanka that we should take some lessons from Bangladesh and your policies, particularly opening up the economy and attracting foreign direct investment. And I think that is the right way to go.
Q: What is the purpose of your maiden visit as the trade minister of Sri Lanka?
A: The apparel industry of Sri Lanka is in discussion with your industry particularly BGMEA. Both have their own strengths. We have strength in quick response with delivery and reaching into the higher segments of the market. Bangladesh has tremendous price advantage. Of course your quality is also good. So we feel that if we have some sort of synergy, we might have a win-win situation for the countries. Some of the basic items like jeans and t-shirts are to be produced here in Bangladesh and stored in Sri Lanka, then give it to customers if they want to add value by embroidery, washing, graphics printing and so on.
Q: While meeting with the Bangladesh commerce minister you agreed with the joint study on FTA. Was it a joint study or joint feasibility study?
A: It was joint study. It is being done at the moment and I’ve been informed that it would be concluded by the end of October. After that we start negotiations for the FTA.
Q: Have you set any timeline to implement the FTA?
A: Of course we want to do it as soon as possible. But at the end of the day, the negotiators will see how they can come to terms with both sides. We don’t want to set a time limit as such or to put pressure on the negotiators.
Q: So far, with how many countries have you signed the FTA?
A: We’ve done it with Singapore in January this year and made it operational in May. We hope to do it with India by the first quarter of 2019. Also, we are in the process of negotiations with China and Thailand and plan to sign it with Indonesia and Malaysia. Altogether you can say there are about seven countries on the list.
Q: Despite not being a ‘great manufacturing nation’, Sri Lanka is keen to sign the FTA. What is the reason behind this?
A: We want Sri Lanka to be a regional hub in the Indian Ocean, a logistic as well as a manufacturing hub. So we want people to make use of our geographical location, bringing in goods and re-exporting. We have GSP-plus and enjoy concessions in the European Union. So, if we have comprehensive FTA with India and China, countries from Europe as well as the Far East could set up their industries in Sri Lanka.
Q: Does it mean that you want to be like Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong?
A: Yes, we do. Apart from apparels, we have identified six sectors: IT-related sectors, boat building, spices, tourism, electronics and automobiles and rubber-based products to attract others to Sri Lanka.
Q: After constructing Hambantota Port, China wants to upgrade the capacity of Colombo port. Why do you need to increase the capacity of your ports?
A: We’re looking at liberalising our shipping sector as well. Right at the moment the capacity of Colombo port is seven million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units). We are looking into having two more terminals and expansion of the east container terminal which will give another two million TEUs. Then we are looking at developing the west terminal that gives another three million TEUs. It means altogether we’ll have 10 to 11 million TEUs in Colombo itself. China is looking into a container terminal in Hambantota itself.
Q: In recent years China has come up in a big way with Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka’s dependency grows manifold. In that context, how do you plan to manage the 15 billion dollar debt and address certain macro-economic issues?
A: We’ve corrected the mistakes that were done by the previous regime. We’ve renegotiated some terms with China, Whatever we are doing now is based on commercial viability. At the same time, we’ve done all sorts of macro-economic and fiscal policy reforms. Also we’re in the process of trade policy reforms. We have fundamentals in place and we’re very confident that we will sort out the current crisis.
Q: How will Bangladesh and Sri Lanka grow together when we are on the way to implement FTA and sign a coastal shipping agreement?
A: Both the countries have a lot of synergy. I’m told that Sri Lankans staying here have a very good reputation. We are encouraging Sri Lankans to come to Bangladesh for investment. Already they are in the apparel and energy sectors. Similarly we also want to see Bangladeshis investing in Sri Lanka and there are areas where they will have advantages. With the FTA we’ll see what is best for us. Our trade is currently less than 100 million dollars and that is nothing compared to our potential. So we must remove all non-tariff barriers that we have and have a comprehensive FTA. We should have look into the prospects of collaboration, giving the geo-strategically importance of our region.