With the current economic crisis in the United States and the Euro Zone, the two biggest export markets for Sri Lanka, the country is attempting to further diversify its export markets and views Asia-Pacific region as a promising destination.
Senior Minister of International Monetary Co-operation Dr. Sarath Amunugama pointed out that with the current economic situation in the United States and the Euro Zone, Asian nations will not be able to expect a revival of trade relations to return to the way it was in the past.
Addressing the inauguration ceremony of the Asia Pacific Trade Facilitation Forum, (APTFF) 2012 in Colombo Tuesday, Dr. Amunugama said that it is important for Asian nations to look at trade in a new light and promote intra-regional trade.
"It is important for countries in the Asia Pacific region to address trade facilitation related issues in a realistic and a practical manner," the Minister has noted.
The Asia-Pacific Trade Facilitation Forum (APTFF) hosted by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC) along with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) was from October 30-31 at Galadari Hotel in Colombo.
Over 190 delegates from the Asia Pacific region involved in trade facilitation and around 100 Sri Lankan officials, business leaders and representatives from regional chambers are participating in the two-day forum to discuss trade facilitation in the region.
Speaking further, Dr. Amunugama pointed out that though products from Asia had a reliable market in the United States and the Eurozone in the past couple of decades, now countries such as the USA are promoting their own products resulting in more competition for exports from Asia.
He urged the participants from more than 30 countries to not only have a meaningful, practical and a realistic dialogue relating to trade facilitation but also to explore Sri Lanka during their visit to familiarize themselves with the diverse attractions in the country.
"We are no longer a low income country" said Dr. Amunugama noting that even in difficult times, Sri Lanka will grow by 6.5% to 7%. "Job creation is the mantra of the developed world which is on the verge of recession. Therefore trade has been very important for recovery and job creation. In Asia, where good export earnings have been reported, everybody is rethinking about western markets. There are two solutions- we should enter the (vacant) spaces to get best returns for our exports. Better facilitation can increase our trade by as much as 15%. Secondly, (improved) intra-regional trade can considerably substitute on our current global trade volumes," Minister Amunugama noted.
Addressing the forum, Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiyutheen pointed out that trade facilitation is an extremely important issue for Sri Lanka, given its small size, high dependence on international trade and its strategic geographical location.
He said that hosting the event at this time in Sri Lanka when the country is trying to become the economic hub of Asia, is important.
"Hosting this annual forum on trade facilitation which provides Asia Pacific countries a platform to share their experiences, best practices and also network with each other, is very timely and important for my country," Minister Bathiyutheen said.
"I am pleased to reveal that our exports to Asia-Pacific under Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) have increased by a highly promising 360% in the period of 2007 to 2011," the Minister noted.
Sri Lanka's trade to APTA bloc members - China, India, South Korea, Bangladesh, and Laos - increased in 2011 to US$ 99 million from US$ 64.5 million in 2010.
China has become most promising destination for Sri Lanka under APTA trade as Sri Lanka's exports to China under APTA grew by 719% during 2007-2011.
Stressing the importance of trade harmonizing by Minister Bathiyutheen said it is important for countries to voluntarily take on trade harmonizing initiatives for ease of trade while better facilitation can increase Sri Lanka's trade by as much as 15%.
"While recognizing that Governments require sufficient policy space to implement the required procedures to monitor trade, I believe it is also vital that such procedures should be harmonized and streamlined as much as possible to achieve meaningful results," the Minister said.
"While work is on-going in the World Trade Organization itself to implement such harmonization within the framework of the rules-based multilateral trading itself, it can only be enhanced by countries voluntarily undertaking improvements to address gaps and delays in their system as well as in implementing, innovating and far-reaching mechanisms to streamline their procedures," he emphasized.