The country’s High Commissioner Manisha Gunasekera reports from their Investment Forum 2019 held at the London Stock Exchange
IN HIS PRESENTATION ‘OPPORTUNITY SRI LANKA,’ Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Dr Harsha de Silva highlighted that his country’s strategic location with unparalleled market access to South Asia, Europe, and America, and its talented workforce with a willingness to do business with the world, meant that British businesses should take advantage of Sri Lanka’s rapidly transformed economic landscape. With both countries due to benefit, Minister Dr de Silva made these remarks while delivering the Keynote Address at the Sri Lanka Investment Forum in London on 9 October, organised by the High Commission of Sri Lanka in association with the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade, Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (BOI), the London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG) and the Sri Lanka Association of Software and Services Companies (SLASSCOM). Held at the London Stock Exchange, the Forum was attended by over 120 participants including representatives from the corporate sector, British institutions and associations, and cross-party parliamentarians and senior government officials from the UK.
The key sectors represented at the Forum were IT and IT enabled services, financial services, education and skills development, tourism infrastructure, manufacturing, value added apparel, infrastructure, medical devices and pharmaceuticals, among others.
Welcoming the participants, I highlighted the special bond that the UK enjoys with Sri Lanka. Historical reasons are essentially a force for good in sustaining the centrality of Sri Lanka’s investment and trade relationship with the UK, which absorbs nearly 10 per cent of Sri Lanka’s total exports, is the second largest export destination, and the fifth largest FDI sourced country for Sri Lanka. For these reasons, Sri Lanka looks forward to continuing its dialogue with the British government to safeguard the current market access levels and preferences following through Brexit and beyond. The English language and Sri Lanka’s shared educational, administrative, governance and legal systems are all factors contributing to the close bilateral economic cooperation between Sri Lanka and the UK.
Guest of honour, FCO Minister of State for the Commonwealth, UN and South Asia Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon recalled his recent visit to Sri Lanka, in which he valued the opportunity to meet the country’s leading businesspeople and discuss opportunities for economic growth, development and strengthening commercial links with the UK. He emphasised the need to do much more to strengthen the incredible collaboration and future cooperation between the UK and Sri Lanka, which already share important bonds. Lord Ahmad noted Sri Lanka’s status as a vibrant emerging trading hub and the upward move of Sri Lanka’s ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index 2019 by 11 notches.
Welcoming the Sri Lankan Minister and the delegation on behalf of the London Stock Exchange Group, Global Head of Primary Markets and CEO Turquoise and LSEG, Dr Robert Barnes informed the gathering that the London Stock Exchange’s 2009 acquisition of Millennium IT, a Sri Lankan company that was a leading developer of high performing trading systems, had been a milestone achievement. The LSEG operation in Sri Lanka has continuously grown, making the facility the company’s second largest operation.
The second session of the day comprised presentations and sharing of UK business experiences in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s macro-economic outlook was presented by Senior Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka Dr Nandalal Weerasinghe, and investment opportunities were discussed by the Chairman BOI Sri Lanka, Mangala Yapa. Past Chairman of SLASSCOM, Ruwindu Peiris, presented Sri Lanka as the ‘Island of Ingenuity – Your Digital Gateway to Asia.’ Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at Colombo Port City, Liang Thow Ming, elaborated on investment opportunities for international partners, on a project that spans over 269 hectares of reclaimed land. The unparalleled investment of over US$15billion and 83,000 employment opportunities is set to elevate Sri Lanka as the premier residential and business destination in South Asia.
Sharing success stories of flagship partnerships in Sri Lanka, Ann Neidenbach of LSEG amazed the audience as she described that one of the world’s most sophisticated and fastest trading platforms – Turquoise, which transacts more than four billion euros a day – is built on Sri Lankan software. Representing the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, which has been operating in Sri Lanka since 1890, Chris Trill differentiated the Sri Lankan HSBC operation from the 13 other global operations for its innovative and adaptable culture, and explained its current role in leading the digitalisation drive in the bank.
The event included a panel discussion and Q&A that focussed on the uniqueness of Sri Lanka as an investor friendly destination, its readiness to embrace emerging trends in the ICT sector and changing digital landscape, and its future prospects. Moderated by Chairman of BOI Mangala Yapa, panellists included: Vice Chair of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Vish Gowindasamy, Group Chief Officer of Dialog Axiata PLC Jeremy Huxtable, De La Rue’s Head of Operations Andrew Hydes, President of the Global Sourcing Association (GSA) Kerry Hallard and Head of Trade and Investment at the British High Commission in Colombo Michael Fernandopulle.
According to President of GSA, Kerry Hallard, “Sri Lanka is a hidden gem of the outsourcing destinations which is now getting known to the world.” Sri Lanka offers many investment opportunities. Recently classified as an upper-middle income country, it has rapidly transformed over the past decade to become a dynamic emerging economy in South Asia, a commercial and logistics hub and ICT centre for excellence.
Sri Lanka has maintained its competitive edge due to its strategic location that connects West and East, its infrastructure facilities and logistics, the supportive business environment, and preferential market access under its bilateral FTAs (with India, Pakistanand Singapore) and regional trade agreements (APTA that covers China, South Korea, Bangladeshand SAFTA etc). Sri Lanka’s status as an EU GSP Plus beneficiary country has created seamless opportunities for investors to integrate with global value chains. As the first country to liberalise its economy in South Asia, Sri Lanka is the first to have signed 28 bilateral investment protection agreements and 44 double taxation avoidance agreements (DTAs) to facilitate investors. Its legal framework and Constitution ensure and guarantee the safety and stability of investments. In addition, Sri Lanka provides foreign investors with total foreign ownership, 99 years land lease opportunities and zero restrictions on the repatriation of earnings.
Sri Lanka is also a well-known tourist destination for leisure, sun and beach, honeymoon, wellness, wildlife, adventure and sports, heritage, pilgrimage, meetings and conferences and cuisine etc. The tourism sector also provides vast opportunities for investments in hotels, beach resorts, theme and amusement parks, adventure sports, agrotourism and ecotourism etc. After all, Sri Lanka was ranked as the top destination to travel in 2019 by the Lonely Planet.