Should target $ 1 b by 2016 as launch pad but industry faces human resource issues
By Madushka Balasuriya
Despite local gem exports increasing by 135% in the last five years from just $ 70 million, the industry has failed to exploit its true potential through value addition, officials said yesterday.
Parliamentarian Kabir Hashim speaking at the opening ceremony for Facets Sri Lanka 2015 insisted the gem and jewellery industry had not been properly exploited in Sri Lanka.
Hashim, himself in the gem cutting business in the past, added that the $ 1 billion export revenue target for 2016 should be a minimum, while also promising complete Government support in reaching that goal.
“Our job as the new Government is to push you, to give you the support to get you there. We are willing to do everything it takes to get this industry off the ground, to take it to where it should have been. I don’t think we have any time to lose; it’s not tomorrow, it’s not today, it’s yesterday,” he said.
Meanwhile, Parliamentarian Harsha De Silva, also addressing the gathering, assured stakeholders that the newly-elected Government would look at current Government regulations for the industry, provided that a paper is presented that “you can defend, with reasons” so that appropriate policies can be implemented.
He also built on Hashim’s point and highlighted Sri Lanka’s potential if value addition was made a priority.
“Anywhere between 80%-90% of this island’s land area, has the potential to contain gems. Just imagine the potential. So why is it then this hasn’t really taken off? We have gone from 300-400 lapidaries (gem cutters) in the ’70s and ’80s to 30-40 now. Why is that? Is it because our people are not good enough to cut gems? I doubt it. Why is it that lapidaries are underperforming?” asked De Silva pointedly.
Lapidaries, when asked, lay the blame squarely on a high worker turnover – approximately five every three months – which when coupled with a six-month training period can be debilitating for the industry.
“In the last 20 years there has been a significant decrease in the number of major players in the market. Currently there are, I would say, three good players,” said Director of Precision Lapidaries Nabeel Salie.
“The pay is good and it’s not that labour oriented, however it is perceived that way. A lot of the younger generation get bored with the job quickly, which is also a reason for the high turnover. However despite these issues, the few who are in the industry perform to an extremely high standard.”
Facets 2015 will be taking place until 6 September, with over 150 exhibitors showcasing their gem, jewellery and related products. To commemorate the anniversary edition of Facets, four postal stamps were also launched.