President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday said the Government is ready to give its fullest support to the export sector to realise its full potential through correctly identifying and rectifying prevailing grievances and obstacles faced by it.
However, he stressed the challenge before exporters is to show results by expanding the export sector, which is at present limited to a small range of items, to greater heights aiming the international market.
President Rajapaksa made these comments during a meeting with a large number of leading exporters, called to apprise them on the current steps taken by the Government to revive the economy whilst the country is returning to normalcy, and to identify issues in the sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic have caused an adverse impact on every sector of the economy. With the gradual resumption of day-to-day activities, followed by the successful mitigation of the virus, the economy is re-bounding beyond expectations, President Rajapaksa pointed out.
“We have very few export businesses which surpass 1 billion US dollars in foreign exchange income.
Opportunities are available to expand this,” President Rajapaksa added.
Higher incomes can be earned through adding values to agro products such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. A new market is now emerging in the global economy with the spread of COVID-19. A large market has emerged in the Asian region centred on the Middle East, China and India. President Rajapaksa said that he firmly believes Sri Lankan exporters with their broad knowledge in management and marketing will be able to conquer this new market.
Using this potential, the exporters will also have the responsibility of strengthening the economy rapidly with a new vigour, emphasised the President.
Even though Sri Lanka is a small island state we allocate more funds for education and health sectors. As a result of these steps, the country successfully faced the COVID-19 epidemic situation. President Rajapaksa said that the Government was able to control and prevent unhealthy developments in the foreign exchange market by introducing prudent measures to halt importation of agricultural products that can be grown domestically and halting the importation of non-essential products as well as to protect the farmers.
There is criticism in society regarding the contribution of the public and private banking sector for the economic revival of the country. It can be clearly seen that the reliefs granted by the Government for the benefit of the public as well as for business enterprises were not passed down adequately to the society. It is a matter that should be promptly addressed. President Rajapaksa emphasised that if the officials of the Central Bank or the State Banks do not take steps to implement the guidelines formulated by the Government, he will not hesitate to remove them from their positions and continue to work with individuals who are ready to fall in line.
The President also said that he will take decisions without fear to deviate from the conventional thinking and work methods to overcome the recession.
The entrepreneurs pointed out the issues related to the non-availability of fertiliser for certain export crops and the shortage of animal food for animal husbandry. The President said that steps have already been taken to solve these issues. The exporters said that the support given by the institutions directly related to the export process like Port, Airport, BOI, and Customs is praiseworthy. The representatives also commended the role played by the Head of the Presidential Task Force Basil Rajapaksa in this regard.
Issues revolving the exportation of coconuts, coconut oil, coconut-based products, tea, apparels, vegetables, fruits, rubber and rubber based products, Information Technology, seafood, minor crops including black pepper were discussed in depth. Export diversification was recognised as essential during the discussion.
Several raw materials have to be imported for re-exportation purposes. However, this should be done without causing adverse effects to the local farmers, Basil Rajapaksa stated.
The Government expects households to meet their coconut consumption requirement from their own home gardens. In the global market there is a very high demand for coconut based exports. As such, the government has devised plans to protect coconut plantations and uplift the Coconut industry in the Northern Province along with other provinces. The exporters stated that the use of advanced technological methods to gather data of the agro harvests across the country will allow them to purchase these harvests without difficulty.
Exporters were confident that if the right technical equipment and devices are imported they will be able to produce low-cost laptops, computers, mobile phones and telephones locally. President Rajapaksa agreed to assist them in this endeavour.
Ministers Ramesh Pathirana, Prasanna Ranatunga, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force, Basil Rajapaksa, Secretary to the President, P.B Jayasundera, business leaders in the export sector and several heads of institutes related to imports and exports were present at the discussion.