Comprehensive measures taken by the Ministry of Foreign Relations, in close coordination with the key Government Economic Agencies and the private sector to address and mitigate the impact of COVID 19 particularly on Sri Lankan exports, has helped in sustaining and regaining lost markets for traditional Sri Lankan exports, while enabling new opportunities. Exportswhich accounted for US $ 277 Million in April 2020, had increased to US $606 Million in May, and is expected to grow in the coming months, in line with the revised projections.
This observation was made by the Foreign Ministry’s Additional Secretary/Economic Affairs P.M. Amza, during an interview on Ada Derana on 10 June 2020, held to discuss the economic impact of COVID-19, and its demands and challenges for Sri Lanka.
The Additional Secretary said, since the outbreak of the COVID-19, the Ministry’s ‘Economic Diplomacy Programme’ has been playing a pivotal catalyst role, in partnership with Agencies such as the Export Development Board and the Tea Board, in facilitating Sri Lankan exporters to overcome the adverse impact of COVID 19. Despite the challenging circumstances, including disruptions to the global supply chains and logistics, the proactive stance of the Ministry and Missions abroad has seen the emergence of new market destinations as well as opportunity to regain the markets for Traditional Sri Lankan exports such as Tea, Rubber and fresh/processed food. As a result of the evolving global COVID 19 situation, Sri Lanka has also been able to target new products and markets particularly for Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and rubber based products (Face masks – 12 markets, protective gowns – 17 markets, Rubber Gloves – 12, Hand sanitizers – 12). Interventions made by the Ministry saw 344 MT and 220 MT of Ceylon Tea exported to Turkey and Egypt and 30 MTof frozen food to Oman, under challenging circumstances.
At the request of the Joint Apparel Forum of Sri Lanka (JAAF), the Ministry together with the Sri Lankan Missions have also successfully coordinated sourcing raw materials for the production of PPEs, thus catering to the rising demand from many countries. 53 potential suppliers forspecific raw materials were identified.
In the context of the post COVID 19, the Ministry together with the EDB has additionally identified 15 potential sectors with a view to capture new markets and strengthen the demand in the existing markets. Comprehensive measures targeting coconut, processed food, seafood, spices and concentrates, electronics and electrical, logistics, printing, ceramic and porcelain,Ayurveda and herbals, wellness, ICT/BPM, marine and offshore engineering, construction, and boat and ship building sectors are being mapped out taking the current constraints, challenges as well as opportunities into account. As a way forward, webinars and virtual B2B meetings are being planned by the EDB for priority sectors with increased demand including Ayurveda and herbal, ceramic and porcelain, boat and ship building, and electronics and electrical sectors.
The Ministry, Missions abroad and the private sector, are also working in collaboration with Sri Lankan Airlines, which has been one of the few carriers which has continued to operate cargo flights internationally. The viability of these flights has been enhanced, where possible, by also bringing back Overseas Sri Lankans seeking to be repatriated, making both passenger and cargo transport more cost effective to all parties.
Ministry of Foreign Relations
11 June 2020
Video Link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NJIvpdSbiJs
Below is the transcript of Additional Secretary/Economic Affairs P.M. Amza, during the interview on Ada Derana on 10 June 2020
Reporter- Export sectors across the world have seen significant downturn following COVID-19 outbreak and are as yet showing very slow signs of recovery as governments have been rushing to implement the measures to stabilize the economic impact of the virus with the key focus on exports. Now in Sri Lanka, the Ministry of Foreign Relations has been instrumental in assisting in the country’s export sector in recalibrating their operations to suit the sector recording the historic decrease by 64% 277.4 Million US dollars from 772.5 million US dollars in export revenue recorded in April 2019. I’ve invited the Additional Secretary for Economic Affairs of the Foreign Ministry Ambassador P.M. Amza. Thank you very much for joining us tonight on the live discussion to talk about the exports and the intervention and what measures the Foreign Ministry will take.
Mr. P.M. Amza – Thank you, first of all for having us today and giving us the opportunity of talking to you on this very important and timely subject and in fact, the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry, as you know, we have been working with 67 missions abroad and the High Commissions, Embassies, Consulate Generals and Deputy High Commission and we also work along with the line agencies here: namely the EDB, BOI, the Tourism Board and the Foreign Employment Bureau. So in fact traditionally we have been working through these organizations giving our Missions targets. In fact it was started in 2018 when the current Foreign Secretary became the Additional Secretary, and we have introduced the Economic Diplomacy programme where we have given the Missions the targets and also help the Missions to achieve those targets including finding resources, but when it comes to COVID-19 I think, we all even the entire world had been confused on how to deal with our economy and we, as early as late March, I remember the first communication to our Missions went out on the 30th of March Circular No. 100 asking our Missions to provide details under five categories and particularly to the market updates in their respective accreditations and concurrent accreditations and we were able to get 59 market reports and altogether 59 reports were published in the EDB website for the exporters and the chambers to know, to give you a summary of that. And we had got the summary under four categories particularly as you know our main exports are in apparel and the Tea as well as rubber products and all three items we were finding opportunities particularly.
Reporter – this is the post COVID time
Mr. P M Amza – In the post COVID time –in fact it started in late March and April and May and the summary has been we had demand for Tea in 24 countries, Face masks in 26 countries. PPEs in 15 countries, Rubber gloves in 22 countries and Processed foods in 16 countries and Vegetables and Fruits in 14 countries.
Reporter – This, in the given current challenges and ongoing difficulties show that still there is demand for Sri Lankan exports and we are looking at a strategy for post COVID time also through the Foreign Ministry.
Mr. Amza – Absolutely in fact taking the example of Tea, we were able to get into the Egyptian market. I have these statistics here 220 MT of Tea and Turkey 344 MT of Tea. All those have been facilitated with the collaboration of the Tea Board whereas Tea Board was assisted by our Ministry in getting the legalization of documents. As you know we were under curfew and the Missions were also closed and we were able to diplomatically approach the Missions in Colombo from Middle East as well as Turkey. We were able to ask them to legalize the documents and apart from that we were able to help our producers particularly in the garment sector to source raw materials because we have our garment industries geared for certain products and when you immediately get orders for PPEs, we have serious problems of getting those exports done because we don’t have raw materials and we were very happy out of the 23 Missions we approached in South Asia, South East Asia and the Middle East, 16 Missions have come out with 53 contact points which helped our industry here to get the raw material and keep the export running and that might be the reason in April 2020, the exports were 277 Mn and it was shot up to 606 Mn provisional in May. I think if we continue this trend there is absolute opportunity for us to go according to the new set of targets which is …
Reporter – What is your new set of targets?
Mr Amza – New set of targets is 10.75 Billion which we reduced from the 18.5 Billion but I am sure to achieve this 10.75 Billion. We need to have 818 Mn average month. We have already gone to 606 Mn in May. I think if the trend continues there is absolute opportunity for us to reach the target which we have set up.
Reporter – But amidst this challenges, Ambassador Amza which we face currently also challenge to sustain the export industry because we face several shocks. What strategies and policies you are looking at because you overseeing this export development side also.
Mr. Amza – Thank you for the question. Apart from this traditional items we have been also now working with EDB and we have identified 15 sectors. The new sectors ranging from you know boat building, porcelain items, the BPO IT products and things like that. And we are now working with our Missions since this target has been done and we are now concentrating on 5 specific areas where we will be dealing with our Missions through webinars on 5 areas namely boat and ship building, ceramic and porcelain sector, Ayurveda and herbal sector, electronic and electrical and coconut so that in the pipeline, out of 15 sectors that we have identified we have reason to believe that we can work with five sectors with our Missions, selected Missions not all the Missions, to introduce the new Markets to the world. I am sure we should be able to work because we have an excellent team in our Missions and they have been absolutely helpful.
Reporter – very quickly before we wrap up this discussion Ambassador Amza, of course at the end of the tunnel what we see for Sri Lanka because you say that new opportunities you are looking at and new ways this also requirement for standardization amidst a pandemic and the health guidelines of the health authorities. What should the exporters know while the Foreign Ministry is dealing with the other issues of bringing Sri Lankan expatriates back to Sri Lanka and liaising with your Foreign Missions. This export sector is also the top priority
Mr. Amza – This is an unprecedented time for us and our Missions abroad. They have been facing new challenges which they have not faced before. And I am sure so far, my colleagues in the other sections in the Ministry they had been doing remarkable amount work in containing and bringing the Sri Lankans to Sri Lanka but my Division is dealing with exports and I am working with Export related industries and the Board of Investment and another agencies who are directly dealing with Economic Affairs. I am sure that we are a nation which has shown our resilience our number of field I am sure that this will be a difficult time if not that difficult may not be able to come out we have to be positive.
Reporter – Thank you very much, Secretary Amza who is in the Economic Affairs Division of the Foreign Ministry in Sri Lanka for joining us to talk about challenges and opportunities of Sri Lankan exports.