Sri Lanka is ranked 99 among 190 economies in the Ease of Doing Business, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings. What are the main challenges investors might find when developing enterprises in the country? And what changes must be put in place to encourage foreign investment and to facilitate the business procedure?
In my opinion there are three main challenges investors are currently facing. The biggest challenge is the current economic climate, there is a lack of confidence in the economy due to the foreign exchange reserves and the different economic difficulties we are facing as a country such as debt repayments, fuel shortages and various other challenges. I do believe however that we need to be optimistic and confident. Sri Lanka has been through many challenges and we tend to come back even more resilient after each challenge. At the same time, the country is in need of mega investments, however for this to happen the environment needs to be conductive. As a country we need to make sure we have consistent policies in place for potential investors. We need to work in a cohesive framework to shorten the process of getting potential investors on board, as the current process is taking too long and therefore putting a lot of investors off. I believe this is a really important aspect we need to look at upgrading.
The United States of America is the main economic partner of Sri Lanka receiving over 24% of all its exports. How can American companies be encouraged to set base in Sri Lanka and operate from the island?
The United States are our number one exporter, it is an important trading platform for Sri Lanka. Our greatest usp is, as I mentioned before, our strategic location which allows for a huge proximity market in South Asia and East Africa, as well as reduced costs in supply chain as much raw material also comes from the region. Add to this our level of education amongst the population and the high literacy rates. Also, the sheer nature of our people, they never give up and they are very versatile which are very strong characteristics. This makes Sri Lanka ideal for supply chain diversification and even Head Office operations.There is also great history between Sri Lanka and America in terms of trade but there are a lot of things that we still have to leverage and capitalize. There are a lot of sectors that we still need to focus on such as the IT and BPO sectors.
Sri Lanka has been historically an agricultural land in its very own particular way. But since independence the country has diversified its industrial capacity in many sectors. What are the big differentiators of this country? Could you please brief our readers about the competitive strengths and the potential of Sri Lankan?
There are a lot of advantages in terms of location, as well as the cost of doing business. In terms of our region, we are lower on labor and power costs. When it comes to our standards, especially in the manufacturing side of business, I believe that we are above when it comes to ethical practices in the manufacturing processes that we use. These points really set us apart from other countries.
Your professional career is an example for many young professionals that look up to figures like you, you have accomplished remarkable things in private sector in public relations and communication in four countries for the Coca-Cola Company in the region, as a business consultant and all while collaborating to make a better Sri Lanka as President of this Chamber, with AIESEC and with Habitat for Humanity, recently appointed goodwill ambassador. In your personal life, what are you most proud of?
I had a lot of opportunities to move out of Sri Lanka and I decided to stay here, and I am proud of this choice. In the last 10 to 15 years, I have been able to give back and contribute to my country but I feel that I still have a lot more to do. Besides my personal family, my sons and wife whom I am very proud of, I believe that it is essential for Sri Lanka for youth talent to stay back and give back. A lot of people have left the country for valid reasons but I am glad that I made the decision to stay. It gave me the opportunity to work in my passion areas which is alleviating housing poverty and, on my sustainability agenda focused on waste management. The leadership positions I have had, allowed me to contribute in some way and to collaborate with some amazing people. It has been an amazing journey which I am proud to have been a part of, I have learnt a lot, and there is still a lot more to learn and do.
What is your final message for the USA Today readers across the world?
Sri Lanka is an amazing country, one of my favorite slogans that the Sri Lanka tourism uses is “The wonder of Asia”. This is a land like no other. I don’t say this because I am a Sri Lankan, I have traveled to many different countries and none match Sri Lanka’s people, our climate, the beautiful land that has everything to offer except snow – and all within a few hours of travel. We are also a country with over 2000 years of rich history, culture and heritage, and of course some of the most amazing food. The country is vibrant and beautiful. The people are smart, friendly and funny. I encourage you to look at Sri Lanka as a very serious investment opportunity. If you collaborate and partner with the right people along with the right long-term mindset, I believe you will find success.