UAE renews interests in post-war Sri Lanka

Wednesday, 12 January 2011 00:04 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Cheranka Mendis

With their eyes on investment and development, two influential trade officials are set to come to Colombo on Thursday, followed by a visit from the UAE Minister of Foreign Trade Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi later in March.

The two officials, owner and CEO of Strategic Marketing and Exhibitions Dawood Al Shezawi and Emaad Ishaq from the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Strategic Marketing will be meeting approximately 155 business leaders of Sri Lanka tomorrow (13) at HNB Towers.

The officials will be stopping by in Sri Lanka on their way to Indonesia and will address the business community and interact with them at a seminar organised by Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the UAE Sarath Wijesinghe along with the Ministry of Trade and Hatton National Bank (HNB).

Wijesinghe, speaking to Daily FT, stated that the seminar would be a fruitful one as the two personnel from the Trade Ministry of UAE would carry back the story of development and stability to their motherland.

He expressed that the UAE’s sentiments towards Sri Lanka were positive and that people were now focused on the country’s progress.

“People like Sri Lanka. It is now the most sought after tourism and business destination in the world,” Wijesinghe said. “UAE has heavily invested in Sri Lanka in various sectors of the economy. The two officials have heard about Sri Lanka and its stability they will come here to experience it and take the news back to their business fraternity.”

Wijesinghe has been operating as the Ambassador to the UAE for the past six months and has maintained a close rapport with the ministries there. He asserted that Sri Lanka had a lot to learn from the UAE, especially on the investment and infrastructure front.

“The UAE has 38 free trade zones. They are methodical and efficient, but in Sri Lanka this is not the case. Many investors complain that things are not moving ahead and are stagnant. A one stop shop, an identified requirement to help these businessmen, is not yet in operation.”

He, along with Chairman HNB Rienzie Wijetilleke, stated that a ‘global village’ as in the UAE as well as a ‘knowledge village’ was another requirement for the country.

Wijesinghe also claimed that he has held several discussions with the Minister of Education in UAE to implement a programme where local youngsters are given an opportunity to learn Arabic, English and IT to be able to grasp the opportunities that would arise in the future.

“There are approximately 250,000 Sri Lankan professionals in UAE and most of the small scale workers such as housemaids and so on send their money here. The bigger businessmen send money to Canada or the USA to educate their children. What we must focus on now is to get that money to flow into Sri Lanka. I believe that putting into place the concept of a ‘knowledge village’ would support this endeavor and I am keen on starting work on one,” he said.

Wijesinghe asserted that the UAE could not survive without its expatriate community as almost 80 per cent of its large infrastructure projects were held in place by the said community.

India and Pakistan have been using this benefit all along, while certain Western countries have exploited the opportunity. For Sri Lanka, however, this would be the beacon of hope and using this would help strengthen the country. “Sri Lanka must let the UAE use the country as its backyard,” he said. “It has the money and resources but it does not have the space.”

The country’s major demand sectors are nursing, property developing, architecture, and engineering, among other fields, said Wijetilleke. “The opportunities are endless. Let them come here and train our people as nurses and so on and sophisticate the current housemaids’ workforce. We must look at sending in the younger crowd. Even though the migrant workers category cannot be stopped entirely, we must take steps to gradually ease this sector.”

Wijetilleke stated that HNB’s participation in the seminar was out of a sense of national duty and that almost 155 people were set to attend, adding that close to 90 per cent of the invitees had confirmed participation.