Commonwealth Business Forum
H.E. Shehan Ratnavale, Sri Lankan High Commissioner's Speech at the Commonwealth Business Forum
Hon. Speaker of the Council of the City of Johannesburg Councellor Conny Bapela, distinguished ladies and gentleman.
I am honoured to be able to address you today on the occasion of this promotional cum briefing event for the Commonwealth Business Forum which takes place in Sri Lanka between the 12th -14th of November this year.
At the outset I would like to thank the Council of the city of Johannesburg who are co-hosting this event with us, and have provided us with this high level venue. I hope you enjoy the view as much as I do.
I would also like to note my particular thanks to councellor Willy Van Der Schyff of the Johannesburg Council for some creative ideas in this regard, as well as Ms. Nalika Kodikara of our High Commission for some valuable coordination work to make this event possible.
Ladies and gentleman as you are aware the Commonwealth Business forum is an integral part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and provides a wonderful platform for business connectivity and business synergy by embracing the business diversity of the 54 member Commonwealth of Nations.
As such the thrust of my presentation to you today is twofold. Firstly to provide you with some knowledge of the mechanics and overall purpose of the forum, and secondly to share perspectives on how Sri Lanka adds value to the forum by being its venue, as well as to contextually provide you with some insights of African and South African relevance.
Also in pursuing my second objectives I will highlight the economic transformation taking place in the country, and hope to provide you with a glimpse of what will greet you when you visit Sri Lanka.
However let me begin by focusing on the forum itself and note that the policy perspectives of the forum are comprehensively encapsulated in the welcome message of H.E. President Mahinda Rajapaksa. I thought there would be no better way to elaborate on this by quoting directly. He says:
“The theme of the Commonwealth Business Forum 2013 is ‘partnership for wealth creation and social development: The Commonwealth, Indian Ocean and SAARC.’ This theme is indeed timely and relevant to us for several reasons. Firstly South Asia is home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world today, although equitable wealth creation is still a challenge for policy makers. Second social development which is fostered by inclusive growth strategies has been lagging in several countries in the commonwealth including some in the Indian Ocean regions, and private entrepreneurship, global linkages and strong institutional support are therefore needed to sustain the growth momentum and make it inclusive.
In that background, the time is now ripe for the Commonwealth Indian Ocean and SAARC countries to use the opportunities of their longstanding relationships as they move into this new era of development.
The Commonwealth has a combination of developed and developing countries with diverse cultures and traditions. This diversity creates a fertile ground for the exchange of technological know - how, skills and investments that would foster sustainable economic partnerships”
Ladies and gentleman while it is apparent that the President’s words focus on some of the long term policy objectives, his references to global linkages, private entrepreneurship and the diversity of the Commonwealth should underline to you as business people the unique networking opportunity that is inherent in this event. Indeed it is a very structured networking opportunity to enable business people to focus on their particular involvement, and as evident from the program, a complimentary combination of plenary sessions, round table meetings and hosted networking lunches aim to facilitate this process.
The program is available on the forum website – on www.cbcglobal.org but to give you an idea – the 15 plenary session topics include subjects such as: The Commonwealth, Indian Ocean, Pacific and SAARC: building new partnerships; Sri Lanka 21st century business destination and tourism a critical driver of growth. Similarly the 19 round table meetings include topics such as infrastructure development, textile and apparel and digital growth and ICT.
Additionally I wish to stress that several of the Heads of State and their Ministers will also attend the forum and contextually note that the Presidents of Namibia, Mozambique, Uganda, Trinidad, St.Kitts, Burundi and Malawi have already confirmed.
Ladies and gentleman this is a suitable point for me to move into talking about developments in Sri Lanka and how they add strength to this global event, as well as to explain an African or South African relevance to these developments.
As you are probably aware in May 2009 Sri Lanka concluded a long standing internal conflict and since then has been in re-building and reconciliation mode. Peace has also enabled an economic dividend. In 2009, the year the war ended, Sri Lanka attained 3.5% GDP growth. In subsequent years we attained 8%, 8.3%, 6.5% and 7%-8% is anticipated in the current year.
Our tourism industry which had arrival figures hovering around 300,000 to 400,000 during the war has boomed, and at the end of last year we surpassed the one million tourists per annum arrival mark. Further with this escalation and an anticipated influx of 2.5 million tourists by the end of 2016, the country is left with a shortfall of 20,000 hotel rooms and is inviting hotel groups to take up lucrative investment opportunities. Indeed investment opportunities abound in a variety of sectors as the country is able to recognize business strengths that had been dampened by the conflict. Significant amongst these is our geographical positioning.
- Placed in the centre of the Indian Ocean between the dynamic economies of the Far East and the new economies of the Middle –East Sri Lanka is a natural maritime and aviation hub. Additionally it is a mid-point between Africa and Asia and is the only country with FTA’s with both India and Pakistan enabling duty free access on 8,700 product lines to a market of 1.3 Billion people.
As such the on-going Government investment in infrastructure which includes a second international airport, highways and ports is not only to increase internal efficiency but to facilitate Sri Lanka’s Indian Ocean hub status. Contextually I also note that a recent HSBC Global Report groups Sri Lanka with Malaysia and China as one of 3 take-off economies. It also notes that the Petroleum Industry may provide an extra boost.
As these developments unfold, Sri Lanka is also enhancing its links with Africa. Up to now we have had Diplomatic Missions in only Pretoria, Nairobi and Cairo. We are now in the process of establishing Diplomatic Relations with 15 African Nations and earlier this month the President opened a new High Commission in Uganda. There are also plans to open a new resident Mission in Abuja.
At head of state level we have had several visits between African nations and Sri Lanka. The recent Seychelles Presidential visit has resulted in a whole range of different business linkages with focus on the maritime area. Further the visit by the King of Swaziland which took place last August has already resulted in the establishment of a Sri Lankan tractor assembly and manufacturing plant in Mabane with plans to export to other SADC countries.
Finally to come to exactly where we are, I observe a momentum too with South Africa. In March 2012 four companies from South Africa and four from Namibia participated in the Expo 2012 in Colombo. In July ten companies participated in the Saitex International Trade Fair in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and later in the same month a twelve company delegation of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce effected a highly interactive business match making visit in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town. In September the Hon. Deputy Minister of Economic Development headed a 30 company ANC Progressive Business Forum delegation to Sri Lanka and there have been several developments as a result. There are also plans for a SME and handicraft sector delegation from South Africa headed by the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry to visit Sri Lanka as well as for a delegation of the South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA) to visit and explore opportunities for investment.
Ladies and gentleman I mention these developments in detail to emphasize that the time is ripe to take South African Sri Lankan Commercial Relations to a different level and in the immediate term the Commonwealth Business Forum provides a wonderful opportunity to do so.
As indicated the registration procedures are simple and can be easily accessed on the website: www.cbcglobal.org
I also underline that whilst Sri Lanka is hosting the forum, it is bound by the stipulated regulations of the Commonwealth Business Council based in London and its stipulated registration fees. Contextually I have been asked to highlight an early bird registration fee of USD1000 ending end July. Thereafter it will be 1,500 dollars. The fees cover all sessions, lunches, receptions, dinners and conference material.
A picture paints a thousand words they say and in a few moments, before the chafing dishes are opened for dinner, we will screen a brief DVD that will display what awaits you in Sri Lanka. The DVD also contains some extracts from H.E. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s speech at the launching event of the Commonwealth Business Forum held in Colombo.
On that note ladies and gentleman allow me to conclude by thanking you once again for attending this event, and to say that I look forward to seeing you visit Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth Business Forum at the CHOGM 2013.