An Echelon Media Company
Friday September 30th, 2022

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce: The Apex Business Leader

From left: Duminda Hulangamuwa, Vice Chairman, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and Senior Partner and Head of Tax, Ernst & Young; Vish Govindasamy, Chairman, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and Group Managing Director, Sunshine Holdings PLC; and Krishan Balendra, Deputy Vice Chairman, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and Chairman, John Keells Holdings PLC

With a legacy of Membership comprising distinguished leaders of the private sector, the Chamber is an influential institution leading the private sector’s efforts toward economic progress.

Established 183 years ago, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce is the apex business chamber representing the private sector of Sri Lanka on a mission to influence policymaking and facilitate bilateral trade and investment, leading to economic prosperity for all. Leadership is the defining attribute of the Chamber for several reasons.

First, it harnesses the high-calibre leadership of its Members to tackle the critical issues of the day that impact the future. Second, the Chamber takes leadership in collaborating with key stakeholders such as the Government, multilateral and bilateral organizations, and professional bodies, on issues that impact business and the economy. Third, the Chamber also has several initiatives around nurturing the leaders of tomorrow by providing comprehensive support to SMEs and startups. In this piece for Echelon, the Chamber articulates how:

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, widely regarded as the apex representative of the private sector, has a long history and rich heritage. Can you briefly take us through its journey and give us a snapshot of the diverse membership and scale of influence?

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce is among the first and most iconic Chambers in South Asia, established in 1839 to promote the interests of commerce as a prime driver of economic development. In the first 100 years, the principal activity of the Chamber was facilitating commodity exchanges, mainly for tea and rubber, paving the way for a thriving plantation-based export economy.

Over the years, the Chamber has evolved to become the unifying voice of the private sector today, facilitated by a formidable membership comprising 548 corporate entities, numerous regional and sectoral chambers of commerce and industry, 23 trade and service associations, and 19 bilateral business councils.

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce enjoys an unparalleled edge in representing the national and international interests of Sri Lanka’s private sector with its strategic public sector alliances and strong relationships with numerous trade-related organizations across the globe, including 134 Memoranda of Understanding signed with chambers of commerce and industry overseas.

In response to the unfolding economic crisis, the Chamber significantly increased its engagement with policymakers, political leaders, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other key stakeholders. It is leveraging its voice and expertise to play a significant role in bringing economic and political stability.

What makes the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce the apex business Chamber in the country? What are some of its critical objectives, functions, and services that continue to shape the destiny of corporate Sri Lanka?

The Chamber’s founding goal remains relevant to this day – to be a powerful voice representing the interests of Sri Lanka’s private sector while always putting the country’s interests first. We work closely with industry veterans, economists, thought leaders, professionals, policy activists, and others, studying key issues and pooling the Chamber’s vast experience and expertise in collaborative committees and councils to formulate periodic and timely submissions of policy recommendations to the government. Over the years, many of these recommendations have influenced policy and found their way into legislation, contributing to improving the business-friendly environment.

The Chamber’s strength in forging partnerships on a national and international scale gets showcased through high-profile events of national economic significance, such as the Sri Lanka Investment Forum 2021.

Organized in collaboration with the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka and the Colombo Stock Exchange to promote foreign investment in Sri Lanka, the Forum attracted over 4,500 participants from 85 countries.

The Chamber’s flagship initiatives, such as the Sri Lanka Economic Summit (SLES) and the National SME Forum, engage leading national and international experts in the fields of economic policy, trade, development, and the public and private sectors to facilitate crucial dialogue and stakeholder engagement on critical economic issues.

Units such as the Economic Intelligence Unit, Bilateral Business Promotion and Commercial Document Registration Units, Centre for SMEs, and the Chamber Academy, among others, facilitate public-private sector partnerships, collaboration with aid agencies, bilateral trade promotion, business intelligence, and a plethora of business and knowledge transfer services.

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce has a long history of bringing together top business leaders from some of the most successful and influential companies in Sri Lanka. Its formidable leadership has always comprised top business leaders in the country. What is their contribution to bolstering the Chamber in its highly influential role, representing the diverse and multiple interests of the private sector?

The Chamber benefits from the skills and experience of business leaders from every industry and sector. The Board and Committee of the Chamber are the vehicles through which top business leaders contribute to the Chamber’s policy advocacy process. In recognition of its astute business prowess, state institutions often invite the Chamber’s leadership to participate in government-appointed committees and task forces; they are much sought-after by the media, too, for their insights and input on the Chamber’s position on issues affecting the country.

Sri Lanka is experiencing its worst economic crisis. How is the leadership enabling the Chamber to reimagine the future by helping members to dispel uncertainty and collectively steer through this crisis?

The Chamber led a collective voice on behalf of the private sector, pressing for change and recommending early action to avert the economic crisis. Many of these recommendations have since been incorporated into policy directives, providing much-needed relief to the business community. The TradeWatch platform hosted on the Chamber’s website provides information to the private sector on regulatory changes governing domestic and international trade. We have several initiatives that support business continuity and resilience of the private sector, and here are some of the other crucial contributions of the Chamber:

Influencing data-driven, fact-based policymaking:

The inputs we receive from our 20 Steering and Sector Committees led by veterans of policy and industry that study crucial socio-economic issues form the basis for the policy recommendations and submissions to the government. The Economic Intelligence Unit leads the Chamber’s policy advocacy efforts. It provides inputs and analysis that support our recommendations through publications such as its flagship Outlook Report, which explores the macroeconomic outlook for the year ahead, and the Strategic Insights Reports relating to key industry sectors.

Fostering international trade:

The Chamber’s Business Promotion Unit plays a critical role, opening up new opportunities for the country via private sector investment and trade engagement. The unit organized 35 bilateral and sector-specific trade-related webinars and seminars, 8 rounds of B2B meetings with other countries, and regular meetings with diplomats and commercial officers over the 2021/22 financial year alone.

Supporting SMEs, startups, and new industries:

Several initiatives by the Chamber, such as the Council for Startups and the Centre for SMEs, provide a comprehensive range of business development services, as well as access to the Chamber’s vast resources of industry experts and business leaders. We ensure they get the best mentoring and guidance and provide opportunities to access international markets, resources, knowledge transfers, and more.

Investing in future leaders:

With partnerships with international agencies such as YouLead, Youth Business Sri Lanka, and the International Labour Organization’s South Asia Leadership in Entrepreneurship (SALE) Programme, the Chamber aims to enhance youth employability and facilitate youth entrepreneurship. The Chamber Academy fosters knowledge transfer and upskilling to ensure employee readiness of the skilled workforce.