US envoy asks Sri Lanka to envision Tamil president, accept multinationals

ECONOMYNEXT – The American envoy to Sri Lanka said its government and private sector should be more amenable to the entry of new companies like multinationals and citizens broadminded enough to accept a president of any ethnicity.

“Imagine, friends,” United States Ambassador Atul Keshap told the 177th annual general meeting of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, "a Sri Lanka where every child can receive an excellent education and aspire to the greatest offices in the land, regardless of ethnicity. 

“Imagine a Sri Lanka where any child can achieve her dream of leading the Armed Forces, any child can be President, any child can achieve a dream of prosperous, rewarding, meaningful employment, a happy family life, with no need to travel abroad to seek financial security.”

Keshap said his travels all around Sri Lanka, assessing both the impact of current assistance and the opportunities for further cooperation, had given him a sense of the bright vision for Sri Lanka’s future.

“No matter where I go, whether it’s Trincomalee, Jaffna, Hambantota, or in and around Colombo, I can’t help but wonder how impressive this country will be when all Sri Lankans – regardless of ethnicity or socio-economic background – can achieve their full potential,” he told the island’s top business chamber.

“I am amazed by the enormous economic potential rooted in the country’s solid base of human and physical capital and strategic position in a fast-growing and dynamic region.” 

Planned transport infrastructure projects could ensure a future where any citizen can get in the car in Colombo and arrive in Trinco or Jaffna in just three or four hours, he said.
“Imagine a high-quality highway around the island, with spokes connecting inland population centers.”

As Sri Lanka looks toward building the infrastructure needed to bolster future economic growth, government and the private sector may wish to consider the public-private partnership model as adopted by many of the world’s leading economies, he said.

A Special Economic Zone in Hambantota or Trincomalee could generate more prosperity, Keshap said.

“Allowing private enterprise to operate in such zones free of restrictive regulation, where the private sector can determine the best business opportunities, will generate much needed FDI and jobs.

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“Such SEZs could incorporate world class competitive practices and regulations that allow Sri Lankan and foreign companies to leverage this island’s central location and human capital to create efficient enterprises which can compete on par with other countries around the South and South East Asian region.”

But he said the central ingredients needed to achieve this vision are predictable, sound, and consistent economic policies that are friendly towards workers and investors along with foreign investment. 

“To achieve this vision, one of the most difficult obstacles to surmount is the scarcity of foreign investment,” Keshap said.

“Attracting foreign direct investment will require Sri Lanka to overcome stiff regional competition.  India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, and others in the Indo-Pacific region are courting the same investors.”

Keshap said an essential element of any country’s business climate is ensuring new entrants have an opportunity to operate effectively. 

“Even as the government adopts and applies clear, consistent macro-economic policies that say “open for business,” investors also want to hear encouraging messages from the private sector,” he told members of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

“Government and the private sector can and should welcome all legitimate newcomers, from domestic start-ups to established multinational firms. 

“New entrants in the market can provide new ideas, vitality, and helpful competition that can benefit the entire economic eco-system. With the correct mix of predictable, sound, and consistent economic policy, there will be plenty of opportunity for the newcomers as well for Sri Lanka’s well-established blue-chip companies.”

Today, Keshap said, many of the best local firms realize their future growth may lie outside of Sri Lanka, and they are looking to expand in regional and global markets. 

“Many are embracing foreign investors because they have experience and expertise in these markets.  These firms and investors can be partners in prosperity.

”As Chamber members, it is your happy duty to continue to explain to government and the electorate why economic policy changes are desirable, policy changes that make an inviting economic environment for FDI that is needed to propel Sri Lanka toward long-term economic prosperity.”
(COLOMBO, June 30, 2016)

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