Interview: Sri Lankan exports rebound due to gov’t policies: official

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by Shiran Illanperuma

COLOMBO, July 26 (Xinhua) — Sri Lankan exports made a v-shaped recovery from COVID-19 induced shocks in June thanks to proactive government policies to contain the pandemic while allowing the essential economy to continue functioning, a government official said here.

In an interview with Xinhua, Chairman of the Export Development Board (EDB) Prabash Subasinghe said that Sri Lanka’s merchandise exports in June rebounded to 906.2 million U.S. dollars, from a low of 277.4 million U.S. dollars in April, thanks to government action in containing the COVID-19 epidemic.

“Even though there was an over 60-day lockdown, the government considered most businesses, including food, exports and ports, to be essential services, which was instrumental in avoiding the more severe supply chain disruptions seen in competitor countries in the region,” Subasinghe said.

Free trade zones and export processing facilities continued operations under strict health guidelines, allowing the productive economy to continue despite a curfew imposed by the government. Key sectors such as apparel, pivoted to the manufacturing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to adapt to changing demand amid the pandemic.

Subasinghe noted that despite export revenue declining in year-on-year terms in June due to the pandemic, exports of goods such as tea, coconut products, spices, essential oils, and seafood were notable exceptions due to rising global demand for food items even amid COVID-19 induced shocks.

Given the growing demand for food in the world, the Sri Lankan government hopes to increase value-added exports of traditional agricultural products, such as pepper, in order to uplift the livelihood of local farmers. Exports such as tea continue to demand high prices, with Subasinghe describing exporters as bullish to move up the value chain.

Subasinghe said that he hopes to address long-standing concerns that Sri Lanka has failed to diversify its export basket beyond apparel assembly, which makes up nearly half of all export revenue, and traditional plantation crops such as tea, rubber, and coconut.

“The EDB is in a joint project with the Board of Investment (BOI) to identify key sectors and attract foreign direct investment for export diversification. We are looking at establishing a specialized pharmaceutical zone and inviting the largest players to invest in exports,” Subasinghe said.

“Sri Lanka has shown her resilience during the pandemic and there is a lot more we can offer by diversifying our export base to new areas like electronics, and building on older areas like processing the rubber which we grow locally,” he added.

With a new global recession setting in and tighter consumption in Sri Lanka’s traditional markets in North America and Europe, Subasinghe said that the country should look to regional markets, as critical to expanding the country’s export base. Enditem

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