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Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy has observed that while Sri Lanka faces some difficulties due to the bunching up of debt payments, Sri Lanka had never missed a payment, was not in economic danger and that the situation can be managed. He noted that recent Sri Lankan policies had improved the architecture for liability management and provided more headroom and stability in managing external debt obligations. The Governor emphasised enhancing Sri Lanka’s macroeconomic fundamentals by addressing challenges such as the budget deficit, inflation and an overvalued currency as well as continuing with an export-led growth strategy to transform the economy.
The Governor made these observations while delivering the key note address to a group of mid-career capital based diplomats representing over 23 countries across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Australasia who are presently in Sri Lanka, during the Economic Diplomacy segment of the session conducted at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI). The two week visit, as part of the ‘Sri Lanka Foreign Policy and Economic Diplomacy Dialogue’ is organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka (MFA), in collaboration with the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute (BIDTI) and the LKI. The Foreign Ministry’s Additional Secretary for Economic Affairs and Trade Ravinatha Aryasinha chaired the session.
The programme at the LKI sought to provide a 360° overview of Sri Lanka’s economy, trade, investment and tourism and to engage diverse views on Sri Lanka’s strategic positioning in the global economy as the Indian Ocean’s trading hub. Representatives of the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade (MODSIT) and the Department of Commerce (DOC) as well as Heads of the Export Development Board (EDB), the Board of Investment (BOI), the Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Authority (SLTDA), the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau, the Tea Board, the Megapolis Ministry, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority and the Colombo International Financial Centre (Port City) Project, also made presentations. They were also briefed on the outcome of the recently concluded track 1.5 conference on the ‘Indian Ocean: Defining Our Future’, held in Colombo on 11-12 October 2018, to discuss issues related to regional economic development and maritime security.
Sri Lankan brands with global presence and top entrepreneurs and Captains of Industry who participated in the dialogue showcased how Sri Lanka’s business-friendly domestic environment has enabled local brands and entrepreneurs to flourish. These panels moderated by Director General/ Economic Affairs (Multilateral) Saroja Sirisena, included John Keels, Jetwing, Dilmah, Siddhalepa and Spa Ceylon. Sri Lanka’s IT industry which is recognised as a ‘hidden gem’ for IT and outsourcing was also presented under its brand ‘Island of Ingenuity’. Panels comprised members of the private sector including Mr Hiran Cooray, Chairman Jetwing, Mr. Asoka Hettigoda, CEO of Hettigoda Industries; Mr. Malik J. Fernando, Director of Dilmah Ceylon Tea Company; Mr. Madu Ratnayake, Executive Vice President of Virtusa; Mr Dileep Mudadeniya, Vice President JKH Cinnamon Hotels, Ms Lakmini Wijesundera CEO IronOne, Mr Jeevan Gnanam, President SLASSCOM, Mr Jonathan Alles, Managing Director Hatton National Bank and Mr. Shalin Balasuriya, Director and Co-Founder of Spa Ceylon Luxury Ayurveda.
Two panels were moderated by Dr. Ganeshan Wignaraja, Executive Director of LKI. The first, included Dr. W. A. Wijewardena, Former Deputy Governor to the Central Bank; Dr. Dushni Weerakoon, Executive Director/Institute of Policy Studies; Mr. Deshal De Mel, Economic Advisor to the Ministry of Finance, Mr. Nisthar Cassim, Editor of the Daily Financial Times. They discussed the outlook and challenges for the Sri Lankan economy against a tepid global economic environment beset by various risks including the US-China trade war, a slowdown in the Eurozone and Japan and a tightening of US interest rates. It was emphasized that Sri Lanka’s economic prosperity can be achieved by tapping into global trade, undertaking economic reforms, forging trade agreements, and transforming the economy towards global value chains and services. The second panel included Mr. Thilan Wijesinghe, Chairman of the Public Private Sector Unit of the Ministry of Finance; Mr. Kavan Ratnayaka, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority; Ms. Subhashini Abeysinghe, Research Director at Verite Research Pvt Ltd; and Mr. Adam Collins, Research Fellow at LKI. They explored opportunities and challenges related to Sri Lanka ‘s development as a hub in the region. Issues discussed included the competitiveness of Sri Lanka’s ports and logistics, the experiences of Dubai and Singapore, public private partnerships for infrastructure financing, policies for attracting foreign investment and tourism promotion strategies.
Officials from Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brazil, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Senegal, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam, are attending these sessions. During the sessions, there was a useful sharing of experiences of countries of the visiting diplomats that might have relevance to Sri Lanka and the region, and also insights from Sri Lanka that could be emulated in their countries.
The diplomats also made study visits to the Port City, the Colombo Harbour, the Nanotechnology Institute in Homagama, and the University of Moratuwa. The participants are also scheduled to visit the Brandix Green Plant, Gannoruwa Agriculture Department Spice Park, the Tea Auctions, Kandy, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and Galle, as well as Passikudha and the Minneriya Nature Reserve.