Post COVID-19: India-Sri Lanka need to be innovative to enhance collaboration on emerging business opportunities and new model of partnership: ASSOCHAM Webinar

New Delhi: The world is going through a phase of uncertainty and there is a greater need for collaboration and cooperation, especially with our close neighbours in the backdrop of COVID 19, said Ms. Suja K. Menon, Head of Economic and Commercial Wing, High Commission of India, Colombo. She was addressing a webinar hosted by ASSOCHAM and Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Sri Lanka on “India and Sri Lanka – Economy, Business Environment and Opportunities for Joint Collaborations”. The webinar was part of ASSOCHAM’s Country webinars to find new ways of working to a new normal, to ascertain the health and economic fallout from the pandemic and to find the new business opportunities for Indian businesses amid COVID 19. The webinar aimed at launching a new roadmap for further engagement with Sri Lanka and come up with recommendations, principles and engagement imperatives.

During her address, Ms. Menon pointed out that ISFTA was the first FTA for both countries respectively, which started a new era of business cooperation between India and Sri Lanka. She asked both countries to be more innovative towards enhancing collaboration. She also stressed on the importance of industry on both sides to convert the vision of leaders and translate into actions. We can do more in services sector and look for investment linked trade flows.

She said that recently Sri Lanka has banned 150 items for imports. Given these challenges, we should be looking at FDI which will be beneficial for both countries. Several Sri Lankan companies have done very well in India and COVID 19 has created new areas of cooperation in digital space, healthcare, agri products, artificial intelligence, robotics etc. She also mentioned that Sri Lanka is providing good services for import and export through Sri Lanka Port and Sri Lankan Airlines. “There are concerns from Sri Lanka but on behalf of Indian Govt., we are ready to work on Sri Lanka’s priorities and recently India has gifted 4 consignments of essential medicines to Sri Lanka worth around US$ 3.8 bn”.

She also asked Sri Lankan industry to take advantage of the monthly economic Newsletter which is widely circulated. The newsletter covers about the business opportunities between India and Sri Lanka and Indian Tenders.

Mr. Shiran Fernando, Chief Economist, The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce moderated the webinar which included the eminent speakers, Mr. Anil K. Agrawal, President, Cosmos Group and Past President, ASSOCHAM; Mr. Vish Govindasamy, Group Managing Director, Sunshine Holdings PLC and the Deputy Chairman, The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce; Prof. Prabir De, Head, ASEAN -India Centre (AIC), Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS); Mr. Deepak Sood, Secretary General, ASSOCHAM; Mr. Manjula de Silva, Secretary General, The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and

Opening the webinar, Mr. Manjula de Silva said that India and Sri Lanka are trading for a long time but there is a huge potential which is still to be tapped. He also emphasized on enhancing Sri Lankan exports to India as there is a huge trade deficit in favour of India. He also said that though both countries have been impacted significantly by COVID 19 but both countries are likely to come out of this crisis much faster than other countries

Mr. Deepak Sood, Secretary General, ASSOCHAM, said, “COVID 19 will reset everything globally. There will be a big change in doing business and everybody will have to rethink their strategies. The damage caused by COVID 19 is going to be huge but it is not irreparable. As neighbours it is an opportune time for India and Sri Lanka to engage and support each other in the economic recovery while identifying areas of new opportunities post COVID-19. India has keen interest to boost trade and investment with Sri Lanka and make it more balanced. Sri Lanka, as a matter of fact has the potential to be India’s strongest economic partner. He also appreciated the role of Indian High Commission in Colombo in accelerating the pace of this relationship between the neighbours. He also acknowledged that Indian investments in Sri Lanka has always been on upward trajectory but Sri Lankan investments in India are equally encouraging in the past few years

He also said that ASSOCHAM, aims to strengthen the vision of an ideal bilateral cooperation, where there are new opportunities as well where trade, investments, technology, ideas and people flow easily across borders.

Mr. Anil Agarwal in his presentation gave a detailed overview of Indian Economy, Industry, agriculture, services, growth drivers etc. He also mentioned India-Sri Lanka trade relations and role of India Sri Lanka FTA in enhancing trade between the two nations. Interestingly, the main items of trade between India and Sri Lanka are those which are not in FTA list, which clearly shows scope of better cooperation. He also talked about the opportunities for joint collaborations between India and Sri Lanka in the areas of Agriculture, Dairy & Fisheries; Food Processing; Healthcare; Tourism and Renewable Energy. He also said that we need to live & fight COVID 19 with precautions, Strengthen immunity and Increase Bi Lateral Partnership

Prof. Prabir De spoke about Reviving India – Sri Lanka Trade and Investment amid Global Pandemic. Prof. De started by giving an example of Vietnam, how a small country with limited resources has done wonderful job to protect their citizens and economy. The two main factors behind their success is their investment in healthcare sector, use of traditional medicines to boost the immunity. He also pointed out that post COVID 19, India’s exports to Sri Lanka may diversify into health (medical) products, climate-smart goods and services, technology products and services, eco-friendly automobiles, digitally-traded services, etc. India’s imports will continue to be processed goods, tea, mate and spices with compliance to higher standard. “The reason why Vietnam is attracting companies leaving China is because Vietnam has FTAs with lot of countries like Japan, USA, EU, ASEAN etc. He urged Sri Lanka to upgrade its FTA with India for better collaboration.

He also proposed to explore possibility of golden triangle between India – Sri Lanka – Singapore to further enhance the Economic and Technology Co-operation between the three countries.

Mr. Shiran Fernando briefed about the impact of COVID-19 & outlook on Sri Lanka’s Economy. He also shared the forecasts by IMF which were made for the world including the developed economies and EMDEs and how it changed just in the time span of 3 months because of the pandemic. It dropped from 3.3% to -3% for the world. He also compared the impact of COVID-19 with other uncertain events such as global financial crisis (2008), Taper Tantrum (2013), China’s current devaluation (2015) and others on the Global Financial Markets. He also spoke about the alternate business sectors for Sri Lanka such as: BPO/ICT, Energy, Agriculture, Value Added Commodity Exports, Retail E-commerce.

Closing the webinar, Mr. Santosh Mathew, Senior Director and Head of International Affairs Division, ASSOCHAM thanked all the panellists for their time and contribution to the webinar. He said that the aim of the webinar was to initiate a dialogue by bringing together businesspersons and industry experts from India and Sri Lanka to discuss trade, investment opportunities and joint collaborations between the two sides post COVID 19. As time moves on, new challenges will emerge, and new opportunities spring up. I am confident that this webinar will result in opening of new business opportunities and strengthening existing ones.

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