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President of the NCE, Ramya Weerakone presenting a token to Ambassador of the Delegation of the EU, Tung-Lai Margue

The National Chamber of Exporters (NCE) conducted the Export Awards 2019 in the Main Ballroom of the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo recently and was attended by the business community, leading exporters and special invitees.

The Chief Guest at the event was Ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union in Sri Lanka Tung-Lai Margue.

The Ambassador for the EU in his address, referred to the uncertainties that had arisen in the International Trade arena due to the Trade War between the US and China, the fall out that had arisen due to the proposed exit of the UK from the EU (BREXIT), the tension between the US and Iran and the recent attacks on oil facilities of Saudi Arabia.

In this context, he cautioned the Exporters to focus on the measures they would need to adopt to overcome challenges that would arise due to such developments.

He emphasized the benefits that had accrued to Sri Lankan Exporters, particularly in the Apparel sector, arising out of the Duty concessions made available, covering over 7,000 Tariff lines under the GSP+ facility. He added that Sri Lanka which had reached the Upper Middle Income status, and in a Middle Income country trap at present, would lose the GSP+ facilities in three to four years on achieving High Income Country Status.

As such, it is imperative that Sri Lankan Exporters, while making the maximum use of the opportunities related to GSP+, should prepare them to face competition after the facility is withdrawn by the EU.

For this purpose, it is necessary to enhance labour productivity, to cushion the relatively high cost of labour as a Middle Income Country, undertake innovation of products and services and also move into Hi-Tech products, through the attraction of investments that would bring in technology.

Further, it is vital to undertake product diversification to enhance market opportunities.

He noted that the EU is the largest trading partner of Sri Lanka, followed by India and China. Also, the EU is the largest export destination for Sri Lanka, accounting for over 30% of total exports, followed by the US.

This shows the vital need for Sri Lankan exporters to adopt strategies to retain and expand exports to EU countries. For this purpose, the EU is ready to provide the required assistance to the exports sector, which is currently effected through the EU Trade Facilitation project as well.

The EU Ambassador also emphasized the need to liberalize the Sri Lankan economy, through the removal of import tariffs to enable Sri Lankan businesses upgrade their production activities to face the competition in international markets. In this context, it was vital to upgrade the quality and standards of many products, to make use of the opportunities presented by the EU market.

Chairman of the BOI and Guest of Honour, Mangala Yapa, in his address, presented statistical data to show the uneven economic development in the various regions of Sri Lanka, wherein the contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country was around 45% from the Western Province. On the other hand, contributions from other provinces such as the Uva Province and the Northern Province, were very low.

President of the NCE, Ramya Weerakone, in her opening address, stated that the NCE Awards event each year, is conducted under a theme related to the current scenario in International Trade. Accordingly, the Theme for the conduct of the event this year was ‘Strengthening Good Governance for Sustainability,’ which entails ethical business practices. She added that buyers, and consumers alike, tend to give increasing importance to businesses that practice such measures, when selecting their business partners.

She stated that it is customary each year, for the President of the Chamber to highlight important issues which impact on the exporter community, to attract the attention of policy makers and those in authority. In this context, she emphasized the need for the consistency in policies to facilitate long term business planning for the development of exports.

She stated that Sri Lankan exporters have shown remarkable resilience to overcome the challenges during the three decade long Civil War which thankfully ended in 2009, as well as the sporadic challenges thereafter, including the tragic incidents that occurred in April this year. However, they earnestly desire a conducive business environment, with security, if they are to contribute effectively to achieve the economic development objectives and targets of the country.

She particularly referred to the Taxation Policy of the Government, wherein the levels of corporate taxation of the export sector has had a negative impact on exports and the inclusion of the promising Information Technology and the Gems and Jewellery sectors, for corporate taxation, which were hitherto exempt sectors, since they have great potential to contribute to the export effort of the country. The IT sector in particular, is a focus sector under the National Export Strategy (NES), along with five other sectors.

She acknowledged the assistance provided to Sri Lankan exporter under the EU Trade Facilitation Project, which had benefitted many facets related to exports.

She also conveyed her sincere appreciation and thanks to the sponsors of the event, including the main sponsor Sri Lanka Mobitel Pvt. Ltd., who had supported the Chamber over the years to make this event of National significance, which recognizes and rewards the endeavors of Sri Lankan Exporters, a success.

Nilrukshi de Silva, Chairman of the Events Sub Committee for Export Awards which provided guidelines and directions for its conduct, in her brief address outlined the evaluation criteria. “Inputs were also provided by the Multinational Audit Firm Ernst & Young (who is the Strategic Knowledge Partner of the Chamber) to ensure transparency and credibility of the selection process.”

The criteria for the selection of award winners include not only export volume and value of products and services, export growth and diversification of products and markets, but also other important aspects which ensure the sustainability of enterprises and their performance in International markets.

Accordingly, Special Gold Awards were conferred to recognize achievements in Value Addition, Branding, Innovation, Performance in Emerging Markets, as well for achievements in Research and Development. Additionally, a Special Award was conferred to the Enterprise which had engaged the skills of Disabled Persons in their Export activities, to the best extent. A Special Award was also conferred to the ‘Best Woman Exporter’ in recognition of the achievements by Women Entrepreneurs in the field of Exports, by providing leadership.

A separate Special Award was conferred to the Best SME Exporter who was presented the Late Deshabandu Patrick Amarasinghe Challenge Trophy, in memory of the Founder President of the Chamber, who passionately promoted the interests of SMEs which make a valuable contribution to the Economic Development of the Country.

The Chamber presented separate awards to eight ‘Potential Exporters’ who were mainly Small and Medium Enterprises from the Provinces. These enterprises had been selected by the Chamber out of 125 such enterprises, who are nurtured to enter the field of Exports as Direct Exporters. The Chamber provides services to this category of enterprises free of charge, over a period of two years, to groom them to become exporters.

This program also supports the efforts of the Government to increase the number of Registered Exporters from the current 3,500 by another 2,000, to accelerate the Economic Development of the Country.

The most Prestigious Award, which is the ‘Most Outstanding Exporter of the Year’ Award presented to the Best Overall Performer, considering all aspects related to exports, was presented this year to Samson Rubber Products Pvt. Ltd., which is a Member Company of the well-known DSI Group of Companies, engaged in diverse Export activities, making an invaluable contribution to the Economy of Sri Lanka, in terms of Foreign Exchange Earnings, and as an Employment Provider.

Award winners benefit by being able to showcase their achievements in the international market place to attract prospective buyers and Business Partners to expand exports. Gold, Silver and Bronze Trophies as well as Medals and Certificates were presented to exporters.