The CEO and Managing Director of Ansell, Harry Boon, told US Business Leaders on Tuesday, that with the expectation of an early settlement to the ethnic conflict, Sri Lanka would be a profitable place to invest. Speaking on the theme, “The experience of a US investor in Sri Lanka”, representing Ansell, one of the world’s leading producers of rubber gloves for medical and industrial hand protection, whose headquarters have been relocated from Australia to New Jersey, Mr. Boon said, his company that had commenced operations in Sri Lanka since the late 1980’s, had lost only three days’ production in this entire period. Ansell has investments of over 50 Million $ in Sri Lanka and provides direct employment to 1800 and indirect employment to over 5000 persons.

Mr. Boon made this observation when he addressed an Investment Roundtable organized by the US Chamber of Commerce titled “ Sri Lanka- Gateway to South Asia”, held as an integral part of the Second Meeting of the Joint Council established under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), of which the formal meeting was held in Washington D.C. on March 25th, 2003. The Roundtable hosted by Willard A. Workman, Senior Vice President, International Affairs, of the US Chamber of Commerce and was attended by Business Leaders with current and prospective trade and investment connections with Sri Lanka. These included the Centennial Group, General Electric Co, Caterpillar Power Ventures, American International Group (AIG), Lockheed Martin, Ansell Limited, Limited Brands, Sara Lee Branded Apparel, Pillsbury Winthrop LLP, the US EXIM Bank, US government officials from the Department of Commerce and the US Trade Representative’s Office, and representatives of the US Chamber of Commerce. The Sri Lankan Business sector was represented by Malik Samarawickrama, Chairman, M&N Centre and Sunil Wijesinghe, Managing Director, Bartleet & Company Ltd.

Addressing the Investment Roundtable, Deputy US Trade Representative Jon Huntsman emphasized that “the US had great confidence in Sri Lanka, and was taking its economic relations with the country very seriously”. He said this was reflected in the decision taken by the US Government in July 2002 to sign the only Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) the US had signed with a South Asian country, with Sri Lanka, during Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to Washington D.C. Sri Lanka is also one of a select number of Asian countries with which the US has signed such agreements. Noting that the TIFA had so far worked well, Ambassador Huntsman said “the two countries should work on both a problem solving track as well as an opportunity track, to derive the full benefits of the framework”. He also sought feedback from business leaders involved in Sri Lanka in order to strengthen the TIFA process aimed at increasing trade between the two countries and attracting US investment to Sri Lanka.

Minister of Enterprise Development, Industrial Policy, Investment Promotion & Constitutional Affairs Prof. G.L. Peiris addressing the gathering, noted that when he had “addressed the US Chamber two years ago, the participants had been only one third of that present on this occasion,” and said “the increased interest by U.S. Business Leaders augers well for Sri Lanka.” The Minister said anyone visiting Sri Lanka today would be struck by “the mood of expectancy in the island”, as after two decades of conflict “ for 15 months the country had enjoyed the benefits of peace and stability and there was the feeling that there was light at the end of the tunnel”. Prof. Peiris said “the single factor that stood in the way of Sri Lanka deriving the full benefits from having led the way during the administration of President J.R. Jayewardene in South Asia as a liberalized economy since 1977, was now being rectified”.

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Ravi Karunanayake in his address drew attention to “the improvement that had been manifest in the economic indicators of the country, since the ceasefire took effect in February 2002.” He said “Sri Lanka had since seen $240 million in investments, which was the highest in ten years.” The Minister added that those seeking to invest in Sri Lanka should be conscious that Sri Lanka today serves as a spring-board to a vast regional market in South Asia. The 18.5 million domestic market of Sri Lanka expanded into a 1.1 billion market, on account of the Free Trade Agreement that was operative between Sri Lanka and India, and was being negotiated between Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The Minister appealed to US investors to help Sri Lanka fortify its on-going peace process by investing in the country.

BOI Chairman Arjunna Mahendran made an impressive presentation titled “Profit in Paradise” that highlighted the comparative advantages an investor could expect when investing in Sri Lanka. He said the business sector had played a significant part in inducing the peace process, and that the current peace had a positive impact on the economic fundamentals of the country.

Managing Director, South Asian Affairs of the US Chamber of Commerce Herbert J. Davis, who concluded the meeting, urged that the current initiative within the US-Sri Lanka TIFA be carried forward into establishing a U.S. - Sri Lanka Business Council.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

26 March 2003

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