SPEECH BY MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY (INDUSTRY), S ISWARAN AT THE INVEST SRI LANKA FORUM, 02 MARCH 2018, 0915 HRS FOUR SEASONS HOTEL BALLROOM, SINGAPORE
Your Excellency, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe;
Your Excellency, Mr Nimal Weeraratne, High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Singapore;
Your Excellency, Mr Chandra Das, Singapore’s Non-Resident High Commissioner to Sri Lanka;
Your Excellency, Dr Indrajit Coomaraswamy, Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka;
Mr Ray Abeywardena, Chairman of the Colombo Stock Exchange;
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to join you this morning at the Invest Sri Lanka Forum.
1. Sri Lanka and Singapore have had a busy two years and many bilateral engagements which culminated in the signing of the Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement when Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited Colombo on 23rd January 2018.
Significance of the SLSFTA for Singapore and Sri Lanka
2. The Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement is significant for both countries. As Sri Lanka’s first comprehensive bilateral free trade agreement, it is a clear demonstration of the Sri Lankan Government’s commitment to re-integrate into the global economy and bring more economic opportunities for its businesses and the people of Sri Lanka. For Singapore, this agreement marks another step-forward in our commitment to free and open markets, and to deepening our bilateral ties with Sri Lanka, and through Sri Lanka into the South Asian region.
3. Given our origins as an entrepot, Singapore and our enterprises have historically embraced internationalisation as the basis for growth. The signing and (soon to follow) ratification of the Sri Lanka-Free Trade Agreement will further catalyse Singapore companies’ investments and economic engagement in Sri Lanka. The successful conclusion of the SLSFTA is due in no small measure to the strong support of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, his cabinet colleagues, and government officials.
4. We are already starting to see the benefits of the Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement – the positive news surrounding the agreement has led to an uptick in interest from Singapore companies to partner Sri Lankan companies to invest in opportunities both within Sri Lanka, and to use Sri Lanka as a hub to expand into the broader South Asian region. Indeed, the strong turnout to this conference is testimony to the growing interest in opportunities in Sri Lanka.
5. When I was in Colombo in January, I had the opportunity to inaugurate two projects – one was Next Hotel Colombo, a partnership between Sri Lanka’s Abans Group and Singapore’s Next Story Group; and the other was Star Anise Boutique Capsule Hotel, set up by a young Singapore entrepreneur and his Sri Lankan business partner. Another Singapore company, Commonwealth Capital, has also chosen Colombo as their “gateway to South Asia” for its anchor brand, PastaMania, and hopes to use Colombo as a city to test-bed their concepts and brands before expanding into the region.
6. These new investments are taking place in a diversity of sectors and they represent new opportunities, for the business community in Sri Lanka to work with their Singaporean counterparts, and also new job opportunities for Sri Lankans as Singapore companies seek a sustainable pool of talent to grow in-market and beyond.
Using Singapore as a hub
7. Sri Lanka companies can also tap on the Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement to begin their internationalisation journey in Singapore. Singapore is connected to the Southeast Asian region through the ASEAN Economic Community, and many other international trading partners through our network of bilateral, regional, and multilateral trade and investment agreements. These agreements would be beneficial to Sri Lankan companies wishing to explore new export markets for their goods and services, just as Singapore companies have tapped on Sri Lanka’s economic links with the countries in South Asia.
8. For the companies interested in research and development or test-bedding their solutions for the Southeast Asian region, Singapore also has a wide range of research institutes which will be able to value-add in several areas, and various regulatory sandboxes for the trialling of new ideas. One example would be in textile technology; textiles being one of Sri Lanka’s export and manufacturing strengths.
9. Today’s forum, co-organised by the Sri Lanka Business Association in Singapore and the Colombo Stock Exchange is timely, as it comes in the wake of the signing of the Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade agreement. The distinguished presence of His Excellency Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is a unique opportunity to gain a deep and nuanced understanding of Sri Lanka and its economic direction; Thank you, Prime Minister.
10. I urge all participants to make full use of this valuable opportunity to seek new opportunities and forge new partnerships. I wish all of you a fruitful session. Thank you.