U.S. companies impressed with more opportunities, investment options

A group of American and Indian business leaders joined a delegation of U.S. and Sri Lankan trade officials on 14 October visit to Trincomalee, a city in the Eastern province of Sri Lanka, which was just months ago enveloped in a terrorist conflict. The trade mission to coastal Trincomalee was part of the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to rebuild its Eastern and Northern Provinces, where it concluded its 26-year conflict with the Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam terrorist group in May.

“The Eastern Province is the model for redeveloping the North,’’ said Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States and a member of the government delegation. “Trincomalee has taken the lead in that effort. That is why we are here.” The day-long visit was intended to encourage large and medium-sized businesses to operate in the Eastern Province.

Sri Lankan forces defeated the LTTE in May 2009, but the conflict displaced about 225,000 people in the Eastern Province and eventually 290,000 people in the North. The Eastern Province residents have been fully resettled. The government is steadily started resettling displaced people who are in welfare centers in Vavuniya. The government is determined to resettle most of the displaced by end of this year.

The government has launched major infrastructure development campaigns in both the East and the North. The projects include the construction of new roads and bridges, rail line repairs, upgrades to water and sewage works, new irrigation systems, hospitals, schools and municipal buildings.

During the visit, the group of about 20 business people and about a dozen U.S. and Sri Lankan government officials first met with the Chamber of Commerce & Industries of Trincomalee District at the Hotel Club Oceanic for a beachfront briefing on the region’s economy. The trade mission also received a briefing on Trincomalee and national government plans to develop the Eastern Province from the Staff of Eastern Province Governor Mohan Wijewickrama and an official with the Sri Lanka Board of Investment. Some of those who took part in the day-long visit to Trincomalee run construction businesses that could share in the re-development work. Others represented manufacturing and technology companies.

Tourism has bounced back since the conclusion of the LTTE conflict in May. In August visits were up 34.3 percent compared to August 2008, and in July tourist arrivals were 28.6 percent above those a year earlier. Sri Lankan tourism officials said that the country will need an additional 20,000 hotel rooms by 2016. Currently there are about 30,000 hotel rooms.

Sri Lanka expects about 500,000 visitors this year. That’s the same number of tourist who came to Sri Lanka in 1982 - the year before the conflict began. But it’s a marked improvement over tourist arrivals in recent years. For instance, just 167,187 tourists came in 2008. The tourism authority expects more than one million tourists annually by 2016.

Melani Schultz of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) also briefed on livelihood projects that the USAID’s CORE (Connecting Regional Economies) program is conducting in the Eastern Province. They include partnering with businesses to build up new enterprises, such as dairy farms, and establishing vocational training centers.

Sri Lankan officials believe that creating livelihoods for returning displaced communities is vital to stabilizing regions that suffered through years of conflict and terrorism. U.S. officials said they shared that view, and that they want to provide jobs as a way of aiding post-conflict reconciliation. “Creating good jobs and the opportunity for a brighter future is itself the best single way the United States can contribute to reconciliation,” said Michael Delaney, the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative and Head of the U.S. delegation.

The visit concluded with a visit to the Sri Lanka Navy’s Dockyard and a harbor tour on Navy swift boats.

The trade mission to Trincomalee was part of a week-long series of meetings and negotiations regarding U.S.-Sri Lankan business ties. The meetings included a “private-public partnership” conference with about 40 U.S. businesses and 30 more companies with operations in India, as well as with trade representatives and diplomats from both the U.S. and Sri Lanka. The week also featured the seventh annual meeting between Sri Lanka and the U.S. to discuss a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) signed in 2002.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

14 October 2009

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