Sri Lanka highlights Sri Lanka’s ‘People, Passion & Professionalism’ at the SLIF 2021

The Sri Lanka Investment Forum 2021 (SLIF 2021) was organised by the Board of Investment, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and the Colombo Stock Exchange of Sri Lanka. The aim of this forum was to facilitate trade and investment between foreign investors, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) project promoters and listed corporates. The 3-day virtual event from the 7th – 9th June 2021 featured sessions and presentations by senior government leaders, top leadership of public and private companies, global experts, investment bankers, and advisory firms and was concluded with registration of close to 5000 participants.

At the Inauguration, His Excellency the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, expressed his vision for a decade of growth culminating in the doubling of the economy, and the pivotal role local and foreign investors would play in the rapid transformation of the economy. His Excellency invited investors to seize the window of opportunity to benefit from Sri Lanka’s strategic location as the gateway to South Asia, high quality human resources, unique tourism potential and progressive policy environment among other factors.

Chairman of the Board of Investment, Mr. Sanjaya Mohottala highlighted the unique advantages of trade and investment in and with Sri Lanka, including its strategic geo-location with a proximity market of close to 3 billion consumers in South Asia and East Africa, as well as being a skills powerhouse, with the best living environment in South Asia. Mr. Mohottala presented a detailed overview of the investment climate in Sri Lanka and in concluding his presentation noted, “Growth is enabled by low cost of doing business … The 2021 budget gives certainty for investors beyond attractive tax holidays that have been provided to equalize or better incentives that are offered by competing countries … Sri Lanka offers one of the lowest productivity adjusted labor costs across all segments, the labour force is far more loyal compared to competing destinations and salary inflation is one of the lowest in the region. For investors, BOI provides tax free capital good importation, reducing startup costs and more importantly, the lowest power cost in the region. All of this, combined with location advantages provide a compelling investor value proposition in Sri Lanka”

USA Country Session:

The country session dedicated for the United States of America (USA) on the 9th June 2021 was graced by the Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the USA Ravinatha Aryasinha, while Chargé d’ Affaires of the US Embassy in Colombo Martin Kelly delivered the keynote address. Delivering the Opening remarks for the session, Ambassador Aryasinha noted that “the US is presently the 10th largest investor in Sri Lanka … The US being Sri Lanka’s largest export destination accounting for 26% of exports worth 2.5 Billion US dollars in 2020, there is always the potential for greater US investment” Further, the Ambassador referred to the recent ‘Trade Shifts’ Sectoral Study released by the American Chamber of Commerce in Sri Lanka (AmCham SL), where he observed that “Sri Lanka stands to benefit from an estimated US Dollars 150 billion worth of business estimated to be shifting over the next five years” and that the Sri Lankan Embassy in the USA continues to pro-actively engage and encourage those who have the potential to invest in Sri Lanka.

In his Keynote address, Chargé d’ Affaires of the US Embassy in Colombo Martin Kelly noted that “The U.S. Government has long been supportive of Sri Lanka’s efforts to broaden and modernize its economy … promoting trade and investment opportunities is one of our Embassy’s top priorities. It’s a vital component of our efforts to encourage private sector-led development and to forge stronger ties between our people.” Speaking more in detail the CDA noted that “The Sri Lankan people, its democracy and business community, have proven their resilience, time and again … accruing the highest standard of living and most advanced development indicators in South Asia … [and] has also steadily upgraded its air, sea, and telecom infrastructure to position itself as a regional base of operations for technology and manufacturing – with an eye to attracting investment”. He concluded that despite those positive indicators FDI from the USA has remained mostly flat over the past five years due to concerns about transparency and the regulatory framework “I’m confident that, … concrete efforts will begin to improve ‘ease of doing business’ and ensure a level playing field for U.S. investors”.

AmCham SL Presentation on Investment Climate in Sri Lanka

Presenting an overview of the investment climate in Sri Lanka specific to US investors, General Manager and Head of Secretariat of the American Chamber of Commerce in Sri Lanka Ms. Vrai Raymond, highlighted the emerging opportunities for investment in Sri Lanka, the progressive commitment of the GoSL, and the passion and professionalism of Sri Lanka’s people. She drew attention to Sri Lanka’s status accruing the highest standard of living and most advanced development indicators in South Asia in 2019 and 2021, and the country’s continued transition from an agricultural commodity-based economy to become a world leader in textiles and apparel, a major exporter of IT and communication-related products and services, and a world class destination for international tourists.

As key takeaways of the presentation, she provided overviews of the investment climate, tax incentives, talent and education, ease of doing business, market access, quality of life and infrastructure, location advantage, and competitiveness and productivity.

Deriving key economic data on Sri Lanka and USA business relations, Ms. Raymond noted that the USA is the largest single-country export market for Sri Lanka with a tax treaty in place since 1985 and a bilateral investment treaty since 1991. She also highlighted that “to support US investors in Sri Lanka, the American Embassy, the AmCham Sri Lanka and the Board of Investment  provide commercial information for interested investors and advocacy for US companies with projects or proposals to help companies enter specific sectors, and to identify potential Sri Lankan partners, while US investors can also access several US Government options to help develop and finance large scale infrastructure projects, such as the Trade Development Agency (USTDA) and the Development Finance Corporation (DFC), among others.”

She concluded by noting to potential investors, “if you are seeking talented, qualified, competent, creative, passionate people who will continuously evolve, adapt and innovate to nurture and grow your business, your brand and your investment, then this is it”.