Indo-Lanka private sector discuss way forward for better ties

Monday, 6 August 2012 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The private sector of Sri Lanka and India met for the first time via an official CEO’s Forum, an initiative mooted by President Mahinda Rajapaksa during a State visit to India in 2010.

During the CEO’s Forum held on Saturday the two sides identified a host of sectors in which Sri Lanka and Indian private sector can cooperate for mutual benefit.

In the apparel sector, with China becoming more expensive apparel sourcing destination, it was felt that there is immense opportunity for India and Sri Lanka to increase their market share in the world. Further there is scope for Sri Lanka to increase export of apparel to India with further relaxation of the rules of origin and quota for apparel that is currently in place under the ISFTA.

There is high demand for rubber-based components in India and at present companies in India face high prices and shortages. Hence an area for both countries to explore the possibility of forging joint ventures in rubber product sector to supply rubber components to India.

The CEOs also discussed the potential of cross promotion of tourism between the two countries. It was also highlighted that air connectivity is crucial to promote tourism. Providing higher frequency of operation to Indian airlines to Sri Lanka will help improve air connectivity between the two countries.

In addition to that there is potential to invest in hotels. Interest was expressed by Indian CEOs to invest in the mid segment of hotels in Sri Lanka as opposed to luxury hotels. It was pointed out that further streamlining of investment procedures will help attract more investments. For example, a suggestion made was to establish a land bank identifying land available for hotel construction in tourism zones.

Given that an additional 35,000 hotel rooms are expected to be constructed in Sri Lanka in the next few years, there will be high demand for manpower in the tourism sector. This provides an opportunity for India to invest in hotel schools in Sri Lanka.

Given the rapidly growing demand for electricity in India, there is potential for Sri Lanka to export power to India during the off peak hours and vice-versa and for Indians to invest in power generation in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has a potential in excess of 40,000 MW of wind energy. It would make sense to expedite the implementation of undersea transmission linkages so that surplus power can be exported to India and this will help in bridging the trade deficit between the two countries.

Further, to encourage investments into wind power generation, it was pointed out that the wind resources availability in Sri Lanka should be identified and land earmarked for wind power projects. It is also necessary to have a policy and regulatory framework that enables big power projects to be done by private sector was highlighted. Further it was stated that Sri Lankans can invest in power generation in India and 100 percent foreign equity participation is allowed.

Sri Lanka currently faces shortage of skills in a number of sectors. Therefore it was agreed that internationally-recognised Indian education institutes should be encouraged to set up branches in Sri Lanka. To encourage investments into the higher education sector Sri Lanka it is important to fast track setting up the right regulatory framework to facilitate such investments.

Further, it was agreed that Colombo Port is crucial for India for its transhipment. Indian CEOs stated that the regulatory framework in Sri Lanka is more efficient than in India and the bureaucracy is more manageable compared to India. Therefore India should maximise benefits from the geographical locational advantage of Sri Lanka to access the rest of the world.

CEOs of both countries emphasised the importance of having a flexible visa regime between the two countries. It was specially pointed out that Sri Lanka should facilitate multiple entry visa for businesses from India without hassle and from the Indian side the minimum salary requirement of India of US$ 25,000 needs to be relaxed for Sri Lanka.  

The Commerce Ministers of both countries and the Senior Minister of Monetary Cooperation of Sri Lanka graced the occasion and agreed to support the initiatives that will be taken by the CEOs. The two Governments have already decided to establish a Joint Task Force to come up with a road map to further enhance economic cooperation between the two countries.

The Co-Chairs of the CEOs Forum were Bharti Airtel Ltd. Chairman and Managing Director Sunil Bharti Mittal from the Indian side and home-grown conglomerate DSI Group Managing Director Kulathunga Rajapaksa on behalf of Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan CEOs team comprised Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Chairman Susantha Ratnayake, who is also Chairman of premier blue JKH, former Chairmen Mano Selvanathan (Director Carson Cumberbatch) and Tilak de Zoysa (President AMW), Brandix Lanka CEO Ashroff Omar, CIC Holdings Chairman B.R.L. Fernando, Ceylon Biscuits Chairman M.P. Wickramasingha, Nature’s Beauty Creations Chairman Samantha Kumarasinghe, LAUGFS Holdings Chairman Kumar Wegapitiya, Ramya Holdings Chairperson Ramya Weerakoon, Siddhalepa-fame Hettigoda Group Managing Director Asoka Hettigoda, Bank of Ceylon General Manager K. Dharmasiri and SriLankan Airlines CEO Kapila Chandrasena.

The Indian CEOs team comprised Ashok Leyland Managing Director Vinod Dasari, NTPC Chairman Arup Roy Choudhury, Suzlon Energy Ltd. Chairman and Managing Director Tulsi Tant, The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group Chairperson Jyotsna Suri, Jubilant Life Sciences Co-Chairman and Managing Director Hari Bhartia, Punj Lloyd Chairman Atul Punj, State Bank of India Managing Director (IB) Hemant G. Contractor, TVS Motor Company Chairman and Managing Director Venu Srinivasan, Lanka Indian Oil Corporation S. Dakwale and Taj Group Upper Upscale Hotels Chief Operating Officer Veervijay Singh.