Britain's upper parliament, House of Lords on Thursday discussed plans to encourage more bilateral trade between the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka, one of UK's most important bilateral trading partners.
Introducing the subject, Lord Mohamed Sheikh said UK is one of the top five investors in Sri Lanka and its number one EU trading partner and noted that the balance of trade has risen significantly in favor of Si Lanka in recent years.
"In the longer term, we must look to address this imbalance," Sheikh said asking the UK government to clarify what action is being taken to achieve this.
"Aside from our historical ties and the strong Sri Lankan economy and business base, there are many other reasons for us to promote and further bilateral trade," the House of Lords member said citing Sri Lanka's ease of doing business and infrastructure development among others.
However, he said, further modernization is needed and the opportunities for British businesses are vast.
"The future potential for Sri Lanka is huge, but it will be reached only through continued and expanded bilateral trade with countries such as ours," Sheikh said.
Speaking at the short debate, Lord Naseby said "With a Free Trade Agreement with China to be signed shortly adding to the existing FTAs with Pakistan, India, South Asia and Asia Pacific, Sri Lanka could act as a regional hub to over 3 billion potential customers."
The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills & Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Livingston said Sri Lanka is actually the highest rated country in South Asia in the World Bank’s ease of doing business index but there are opportunities to improve the position still further.
"We are encouraging the Government of Sri Lanka to take steps to make it easier for British companies to do business there and to reduce the barriers to foreign investment. We believe that Sri Lanka and Britain can also build further trade relationships through the Commonwealth by utilizing the expertise and drive found in organizations such as the new Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, which I am delighted to say is being partially funded by this Government," Livingston said.
The UK Government will also look to hold more trade missions to Sri Lanka so that companies can understand the scale of the opportunities, as they are indeed immense not only within the country itself, but also as a regional hub, he said.
Livingston told the House that the UK Government wants to build an even stronger bilateral trade relationship with Sri Lanka in exports, in imports and in investment while continuing to urge Sri Lanka to make progress on the important matters of human rights and reconciliation.
"In that way, and together with trade, Sri Lanka can secure long-lasting peace and prosperity for all the people of that country," the House of Lords member said.