(UDHAYAM, COLOMBO) – Sri Lanka promptly responded with a ready welcome to India’s largest business chamber ASSOCHAM as the Chamber ambitiously announced its entry to the country on 27 January. ASSOCHAM’s laser focus on Sri Lanka is such that it is even ready to acquire closed businesses in the country and revive. Meanwhile, the on-going JITF series of Northern Provincial exhibitions of Lankan products that began way back in 2010 in small scale has now grown to be a national level expo -with increasing international participation.
“We warmly welcome India’s oldest, leading, largest and apex Chamber, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) to Sri Lanka today. I and my Ministry shall extend our fullest support to your initiatives here” said Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen on 27 January in Jaffna. Minster Bathiudeen was addressing the inauguration of 8th Jaffna International Trade Exhibition, JITF 2017 at Jaffna library auditorium on 27 January joined by Consul General of India in Jaffna Shri. A. Natarajan, President of Chamber of Commerce and Industries of Yarlpanam K. Vignesh, Founder Chairman of Jaffna International Trade Fair Kosala Wickramanayake, and Chairman- Exhibition Council of Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) Vinay R Sharma who is leading the 75 member strong Indian delegation, and Secretary General / CEO, National Chamber of Exporters of Sri Lanka Shiham Marikkar. JITF is endorsed by Minister Bathiudeen’s Industry and Commerce Ministry. JITF 2017 is a three day event with 350 exhibitor stalls. According to the organiser LECS, last year’s JITF attracted 60000 visitors and has become a not to be missed business event.
“The provincial GDP of Northern Province is the smallest among all provincial GDPs in Sri Lanka. In 2015 Northern Province GDP was US $ 2.6 billion only. It is a mere 3.5% of Sri Lanka’s total GDP. The biggest GDP province, the Western Province showed a total of US $ 31 billion” said Minister Bathiudeen and added: “The question we need to ask is then what is the economic importance of the Northern Province-Despite having the smallest Provincial GDP, Northern Province has been a fast growing province among all provinces. For example in 2011-2012 Northern Province GDP growth was a huge 26%. In 2012-2013 it was 12.1%. In the latest 2014-2015 data the highest provincial GDP growth reported equally by two provinces and I am pleased to say that the Northern Province is one of these two leading “GDP growth provinces”, at 12.1% YoY growth. These growth numbers are reported in the northern-province despite some critical issues that the Province is facing such as the lack of industrial and other infrastructure, human resources and skills base, economic and business information, and private sector unwilling to get involved in the Province. What is important here is that such strong provincial GDP growth in the North is reported despite these issues. On the other hand once these issues are resolved we can expect the Province to become a key contributor to Sri Lanka’s GDP. Also high profile events such as JITF that showcase Jaffna’s great potential to the world are also now part of future growth of Northern GDP guided by the visions of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.”
Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) Vinay R Sharma addressing the event stressed the entry of his Chamber to Sri Lanka in a pioneering initiative. “This is the first time ASSOCHAM is entering Sri Lanka in this way and we are here to partner with Sri Lankan businesses in joint ventures, partnerships and even new business openings in many sectors including automotives and textiles” said Sharma and added: “We also find the South of Sri Lanka is now saturated for Indian businesses with less and less opportunities but Jaffna, is still a virgin market for us-offering large and untapped potentials to our member base, which exceeds 475000 firms! Most importantly, many of the firms in this delegation to Jaffna are looking to partner with Sri Lankan Companies that are sick or are on the verge of closure or even already closed down-at whatever size or level: We are ready to partner or acquire and revive them! We are open to discuss with any such businesses even in the next three days while we are in Sri Lanka. We are also ready to commence industrial zones in Sri Lanka, even focused on exports. Such is our level of engagement and we believe that this will strengthen our bilateral trade.”
Total trade between India and Sri Lanka was at almost $ 5 Bn (at $4.91 billion) in Y2015 (by end-June 2016 totalled $2.05 Bn). In 1991 it was only a small $56 Mn. India also became the largest supplier to Sri Lanka in 2015–22.5% of Sri Lanka’s imports in 2015 were from India (China second at 19.7% and EU next, at 9.5%).
Founder Chairman of Jaffna International Trade Fair Kosala Wickramanayake reminisced of the humble beginnings of LECS: “JITF was launched in 2010 in Jaffna with less than 50 stalls and amidst many obstacles –such as the inability to easily enter the peninsula from Colombo as a result of lack of access through A9 Highway” said Wickramanayake. Consul General of India in Jaffna Shri. A. Natarajan hinted of the need for drawing more FDI to North. “An aluminium production facility has been commenced in the North successfully. Still, this is not enough. Jaffna has much more potential to grow and Indian investors from ASSOCHAM are here to support so that the country’s production and exports would grow further.”
Sri Lanka’s exports to India also surged by 3.2% to US $ 645 Mn in 2015 from US $ 625 Mn in 2014.