Onus on trade officers

Wednesday, 24 November 2010 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Urged to proactively promote Sri Lanka and drive economy, trade and exports

By Cheranka Mendis

Trade officers placed abroad must exercise their duty to uplift the current developing status of Sri Lanka among the international community, while helping the local businesses expand operations.

Speaking at the Sri Lanka Export Development Board five day seminar on ‘Strengthening Ties with Trade Officers in Sri Lankan Missions Overseas,’ Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishard Bathiudeen stated that with a focus driven plan to uplift the economic situation of the country, the work cut out for trade officers in Sri Lanka missions overseas was more strategic.

He asserted that since the Government had allocated a large sum that goes to these trade officers, citizens have “every right to expect a sufficient and positive contribution from the officers to build up the country. The officers have a crucial role to play in bringing in commercial intelligence to the nation while promoting exports there.”

He noted that “they must at all times remember that they have been appointed on a specialised task to drive the economy, trade and exports of the country”.

Bathiudeen highlighted the importance of trade officers aligning their work with the midterm goals of the country and urged the officers to draw up an annual action plan for the respective markets in consultation with the Department of Commerce, adding that a proper impact assessment would be made following the installation of the projects.

“We ask you to become proactive rather than reactive. You are also expected to know and understand the trade policies of the country you have been posted at and identify the thrust areas that the local markets can penetrate into,” he emphasised.

“In developing a coherent realisation of the target plans for 2020, your service is vital,” Bathiudeen said. Assessing that diversification was a special focus for the country, he requested the officers to look into new and improved markets and diversification of products and services from which Sri Lanka could derive benefits. “There is no time to waste in opportunity creation and penetrating into new markets,” he added.

The duties of a frontline trade officer are to increase foreign exchange earnings of the country by facilitating exports to the country to which he is assigned. Recommending suitable trade fairs to local exporters, focusing on arranging more missions to Sri Lanka and encouraging foreign buyers to the nation are other duties.

“They should act aggressively, promote foreign investors to invest in Sri Lanka and promote the country as a favourable tourism destination backed by peace and stability.”

Ministry of Industry and Commerce Secretary Tilak Collure also speaking at the event commented that trade officers added an important international dimension to the system and ranged from third secretaries to consular generals to ministers. “They should all gear themselves as responsible persons for the future as they are identified as frontline partners in growth,” he noted.

“Emerging from an economic war that raged during the past few years, Sri Lanka is now a stable economy with a per capita income of US$ 2,000 from the previous US$ 1,000. According to the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ Sri Lanka is to achieve a per capita income of US$ 4,000 within the next four to six year period as an upscale middle income country,” Collure said.  

In today’s world, with advanced access to information and extensive communication technology, the role of trade officers abroad is no longer to ‘discover things in a faraway land’. Instead, their role is much more strategic and includes building market intelligence or fresh intelligence, which would contribute to the country’s overall competitive strategy.

Successful cases of effective use of trade officers abroad like that of ProChile, IE Singapore and MATRADE are carefully worked out trade promotions strategies to which the trade officers contribute as cogs in the multiple coordinating wheels.

“There is a high need for more careful planning of Sri Lanka’s trade frontline. It is important to ensure its support to follow a winning strategy that is geared to meeting Sri Lanka’s target of US$ 15 billion exports by 2015,” Chairman/CEO of EDB Janaka Ratnayake said.

Assessing that the country is embarking on a major development journey and the Government has identified exports as a driving force for economic development, the responsibilities of a trade officer have increased by leaps and bounds, he said.