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Exporters’ Forum returns in full strength; exporters upbeat on prompt results

Sep 27, 2011 3:26:00 PM - www.ft.lk

The once-popular Exporters’ Forum is back in full strength – and Sri Lanka’s exports sector has praise for the initiative, with various export chambers joining in.

“After nearly two years, the Export Development Board (EDB) has once again organised the Exporters’ Forum. Most of the problems faced by the exporters cannot be solved by one institution alone. It requires the joint efforts of several institutions. The Exporters’ Forum is one such effort by the EDB towards such a coordinated attempt,” said Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen.
Minister Bathiudeen said this at the commencement of the Exporters’ Forum yesterday at 10:30 a.m. at the EDB Premises in Colombo. This is the first Exporters’ Forum under the guidance of Minister Bathiudeen.
The session, which continued beyond two hours, saw full attendance from the private sector, exporters, chambers, various advisory committees and top Government ministries and departments, with their consensus that it was a productive exchange of ideas.
More than 40 private sector export firms were present to make their representations yesterday. Among them were Finlays Colombo PLC, Haycarb PLC, Akbar Brothers and Coco Lanka Ltd.
Among the various export and industry chambers were the National Chamber of Exporters of Sri Lanka, Association of Container Operators, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Sri Lanka Association of Manufacturers & Exporters of Rubber Products, Sri Lanka Food Processors’ Association, Floriculture Produce Exporters’ Association, Fruit and Vegetable Exporters’ Association and Sri Lanka Seafood Exporters’ Association.
Top line ministries and Government departments were present. Among them were the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Department of Commerce, Inland Revenue Department, Ministry of Finance, Sri Lanka Customs, Ministry of Finance and Planning, Sri Lanka Gem and Jewellery Authority, Ministry of Plantation, Sri Lankan Airlines, Ministry of External Affairs, Electricity Board, NCED, Ministry of Ports and Aviation, Airport and Aviation Authority, Coconut Development Authority, the Land reform Commission, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Agrarian Services and Wildlife, Ministry of Labour and Labour Relations, Sri Lanka Standards Institution, Ministry of Petroleum Industries, and the Exchange Controls Department of Central Bank.
The Advisory Committees under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce were also in attendance, among them Committees on Handloom/Household Textiles, Gems, Diamond and Jewellery, Footwear and Leather, Rubber and Plastic, and Ceramics and Porcelain.
The various chambers and the private sector present expressed their satisfaction not only on the resumption of the forum, but even the successful outcome of the session itself. A private sector representative, Ornamental Fish Exporters’ Association of Sri Lanka President Sathyendra Vijayapura summed up the pulse of the forum participants: “Today’s effort is very timely and very fruitful. This is the only forum where we could take up issues prevailing in the export sector, after a silence of some time. We are very thankful to Minister Bathiudeen and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce for restarting this event.”
 During the session, Minister Bathiudeen assured the export community on the pending Export Development Rewards Scheme (EDRS) payments. “We are waiting for the response from the Treasury for our EDRS requests. I shall also update President Mahinda Rajapaksa on this,” Minister Bathiudeen said.
Responding to exporters, Sri Lanka Customs said that the implementation of the Single Window system was well on its way. “Most of the ASYCUDA World software has already been tested and been found effective. We will be implementing the Single Window system in full at the end of the year,” responded officials from Sri Lanka Customs.
The treasury has already directed Sri Lanka Customs to implement ASYCUDA World (Automated System for Custom Data) fully linking other stakeholder institutions and monitored by NCED. It was also revealed that the ASYCUDA software had already been deployed in full at the Ministry of Finance and would be extended to other relevant ministries.
The forum decided to discuss the rubber cess issue with other stakeholders and requested them to report back to the forum. The Sri Lanka Association of Manufacturers & Exporters of Rubber Products requested a removal of the cess on raw rubber imports in order to strengthen local rubber value addition sectors. It said that raw rubber imports were necessary for the smooth functioning of the rubber product industry.
The forum, led by Bathiudeen, took due note of the air freight rates issue. Some exporters expressed that air freight rates charged by SriLankan Airlines were higher than rates of some other airlines. A representative from SriLankan replied that for cargo exceeding 500Kg, the rate was at $ 1.91 to Europe.
“However, if cargo is sent to Amsterdam, trucking charges are slapped on our exporters, which push their costs higher. Therefore SriLankan is unable to guarantee a price reduction for Amsterdam,” responded SriLankan reps, to which exporters showed their agreement.
The National Gem & Jewellery Authority revealed that it had already requested the removal of lapidary custom duties and the imposing of a new tax scheme to safeguard the domestic gem and jewellery sector. The lapidary exporters said that decline in domestic gem production had led to supply shortages of stones domestically, leading to increased rough gem imports from abroad.
“We becoming a gem value addition centre rather than a gem production centre,” Sri Lanka Gem and Jewellery Association Associate Secretary Nawrooz Azmi noted.
The forum also took due note of a request to simplify the Temporary Importation for Export Processing Scheme (TIEP) schemes. It was noted that the small and medium exporters feel that the cost of compliance to the scheme is too high and also not sufficiently designed to accommodate multiproduct exporters.
Sri Lanka Customs clarified that exporting firms could benefit from the Company Guarantee Facility provided the firm had been in operation for more than four years and had performed well during the four years ‘without a black mark’.
“We had a very successful Exporters’ Forum session today. We will continue this interaction in the next session,” said Ministry of Industry and Commerce Secretary Tilak Collure, concluding the session.
Minister Bathiudeen first announced the revival of the Exporters’ Forum addressing the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Apparel Exporters Association of Sri Lanka on 31 March. The Exporters’ Forum is a ‘one stop shop solutions mechanism’ for exporters and its bimonthly meetings held some time back were well attended by exporters, before the sessions were temporarily stopped. The forum helped problems of exporters to be discussed freely with the relevant public sector institutional representatives and other connected agencies and speedy resolutions were given. 
In his opening speech addressing the forum, Minister Bathiudeen said: “Export sector is plays a very vital role in every aspect of our economy.  In fact, we consider exports as the life blood of our economy and the export development strategy always constitutes a major part of our overall economic development strategies.  Our Government is making every possible effort to develop our exports. After nearly three decades peace has been established throughout the country. Exchange control regulations have been relaxed to the maximum possible extent. The tax system has been reformed to create a simple tax regime.”
“We are working to improve our export and import procedures to make them simple and efficient. We are maintaining a conducive investment environment by way of lowering interest rates and inflation rates etc to encourage international investors in all the sectors of our economy. The Government is heavily investing its resources to develop ports, airports, road network, railway and transport facilities and the energy sectors. Sri Lanka has already begun to see results of these efforts,” he added.
Speaking on Sri Lanka’s exports performance in his opening speech, Bathiudeen said: “Our exports in 2010 have increased by 21 % over the previous years, despite facing some challenges internationally. During the first half of this year also we were able to achieve an export growth rate of 35%. This is a remarkable achievement all of us can be proud of. In order to achieve the economic growth targets stipulated in the ‘Mahinda Chinthana,’ which is the way forward for Sri Lanka, the export sector should grow at a more rapid pace than at present.”
Speaking on the Exporters’ Forum mechanism, he said: “The Exporters’ Forum organised by the EDB to solve the problems of the export sector is a vital event and I am sure that it would be appreciated by all the stakeholders. Most of the problems faced by the exporters cannot be solved by one institution alone. It requires the joint efforts of several institutions. I believe that the coordinated effort among the stakeholder institutions that are connected with exports is very important to solve the problems of the exporters. The Exporters’ Forum is one such effort by the EDB towards such a coordinated attempt. Thus, we are gathered here to discuss the problems faced by the exporters in a friendly atmosphere to find solutions.”