SMEs need a level playing field

Friday, 18 October 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

 International Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka Chairman Dinesh Weerakkody (second from left)

The International Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka (ICCSL) elected a new Executive Committee for 2019/20 at the 53rd Annual General Meeting of the chamber held recently in Colombo. In this interview, ICCSL Chairman Dinesh Weerakkody outlines many of the opportunities for the chamber given ICCs global network of over 45 million member companies, chambers of commerce and business associations in over 130 countries. Weerakkody points out that ICCSL can facilitate local companies to access new markets. 

Following are excerpts:

By Nihara Nanayakkara

Q: As the Chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka, what are your plans for ICCSL for 2019/20?

 To make trade and finance more inclusive. We will also help the Government to enhance support for micro and small enterprises and to harness the power of digital technologies to reduce barriers in commerce. This year we also hope to update our members on International Trade Law and Practices and this service would be available to non-members too. We hope to assemble an expert panel for this purpose.


Q: What is the ICCSL involvement with the International Chamber of Commerce, headquartered in Paris?

 ICCSL works closely with our parent body, ICC Paris, and some of our Board members are nominated to represent ICCSL on the ICC National Working Committees. We will support ICC’s centenary pledge made during the ICC centenary celebrations held in Paris in May under the theme ‘The Next Century of Global Business’. We at ICC Sri Lanka will align our local chamber with the ICC declaration on ‘The Next Century of Global Business’ and support the five pioneering campaigns. These campaigns aim to unlock the unique power of ICC’s global network to achieve real change for protecting the planet, people and business and to achieve a sustainable future. We will continue to champion our parent body’s stand for open markets and work within the WTO on MSMEs, investment facilitation and e-commerce.


Q: Can you briefly describe ICC membership? What benefits would an individual/company get from taking ICC membership?

 We are the only local chamber with an international parent body. ICC Paris has over 45 million members in over 130 countries. ICCSL membership is diverse and brings together companies in every facet of business. Some of the important services provided by us include the issuance of ATA Carnets (which is an internationally-accepted Customs document which enables duty free and tax free temporary importation of items as commercial samples, exhibits at fairs), issuance of Certificate of Origin – issued online, making it hassle free for exporter to obtain this document; Information about visits of foreign trade delegations; sale of ICC publications; information on trade inquiries, exhibitions and conventions; advice on resolution of trade disputes and conducting workshops/seminars on trade finance. 

To serve our members better, we have now introduced an exclusive Membership Privilege Card, which entitles member companies to a range of discounts from over 50 retailers. We also conducted a member survey to identify how to serve our members more effectively. We are now absorbing member comments into our main workstream. In addition, we are the first business chamber to introduce a co-branded credit card.


Q: How does ICCSL support the national agenda?

 ICCSL supports all economic proposals on liberalisation and entrepreneurship that help to boost exports and help SMEs to grow. We engage with Government agencies to promote exports and investment, given our large global network. We continue to work closely with the EDB, Ministry of Tourism, Department of Commerce, Sri Lanka Customs and Central Bank. In addition, building capacity in the public sector in trade related areas. As a country we need to strengthen the capacity of our SMEs to access new markets and expand. Now to achieve that SMEs need a level playing field.


Q: What are some of the important issues that are being talked about by ICC?

 I would say climate change, access to finance, market access and education. I know these are important conversations and action is taking place across the world to tackle these issues. But there will always be more to be done in tackling climate change and making sure everyone has access to education and decent work. More companies than ever before are actively placing climate change at the heart of their business strategy, investment decisions and operations. 

ICC as the voice of global business is committed to supporting the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) and the Paris Agreement in accelerating the transition to an inclusive and sustainable low-carbon future. We will support private sector leaders to meet the calls of shareholders, the Government and the public for a more inclusive and responsible capitalism.


Q: What are some of the issues facing your member companies?

 Access to low cost finance, cost of borrowing, skills, taxation and other factor cost. The Central Bank has progressively reduced the base lending rates to promote investment. The Government also needs to push investor friendly policies in line with other regional countries and ensure policy consistency. We need to promote regional industries to drive regional economic growth and employment opportunities outside of the western region. 

In the ’80s, we had the garment factory program, this is now one of the main revenue earners for the country. Similarly, we need to promote specific zones and regions for certain industries. More SME-friendly lending and capacity building should be encouraged by the financial institutions to promote entrepreneurship amongst the younger generations. Technology and automation will also create new opportunities and have limitless potential.


Q: What is ICC’s Global Agenda at this moment?

 ICC is championing the global economy as a force for economic growth, job creation and prosperity. ICC will continue to play an important role in identifying opportunities for governments and businesses to work together to build a shared agenda. Also the ICC Court has successfully expanded its geographical footprint with a new case management office opened in São Paulo. In early 2018, a new representative office of the ICC Court will officially open in Abu Dhabi, followed by a new case management office in Singapore later in the year. This is a major step forward in cementing ICC’s position as a truly global provider of dispute resolution services – building on its existing presence in Hong Kong, New York and Shanghai.