Interview: Greg Hands
How will the future Sri Lanka-UK bilateral relationship be shaped by Brexit?
GREG HANDS: Sri Lanka already boasts a stable economic outlook, with strong growth expected to continue in the coming years. The country’s skilled workforce, with high proficiency in the English language, presents an exciting prospect for potential investors.
As we leave the EU, the UK will have control of its own trade policy for the first time in more than 40 years. As we do so, we will continue to assert ourselves as global champions of free trade, promoting prosperity and stability in emerging economies worldwide. That is why the UK government has introduced legislation in its recent Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill to establish a UK trade preference scheme, providing the same level of access as the existing EU Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).
How do you expect trade and investment flows to be affected by Sri Lanka regaining GSP+ status?
HANDS: The UK welcomes the efforts that Sri Lanka has made to reform human and labour rights since 2010, and was supportive of its application to re-enter EU GSP+ trade preferences in May 2017.
In 2015 UK exports to GSP developing countries were worth around £19bn, and in 2016 Sri Lanka was the sixth-largest preference country exporting to the UK. Minimising disruption to these trading relationships as we leave the EU will be key.
What investment opportunities exist for UK companies to develop Sri Lanka’s infrastructure?
HANDS: Sri Lanka’s ambition to develop transport and logistics infrastructure, as well as its cities, presents a key opportunity to UK businesses. The Port City Colombo project represents just one of these ambitious initiatives, aiming to establish Sri Lanka as a centre for professional, financial and commercial services in South Asia. I am confident that, as a result of such projects, we will see many more UK companies doing business in Sri Lanka.
UK firms have expertise, technology and competitive funding lines to offer in Sri Lanka’s pursuit of modernised, better-connected infrastructure. The benefits of this will extend beyond Colombo, increasing global businesses’ access to some of the most promising, previously isolated, areas of Sri Lanka’s economy. UK Export Finance, the export credit agency, has a market risk appetite of up to £500m to support UK firms seeking to explore opportunities in Sri Lanka.
To what extent can the UK assist in Sri Lanka’s transition to a knowledge-based economy?
HANDS: The Sri Lankan government’s Vision 2025 statement in September 2017 set out to position the country as the hub of the Indian Ocean, with a knowledge-based and highly competitive economy. This will require a modern, competitive and accessible education system, an area in which the UK excels. Sri Lanka already has the largest membership of the Chartered Institute for Management Accountants and the Chartered Institute for Marketing outside the UK.
With UK qualifications among the most desired in Sri Lanka, the UK education sector should be ready to take advantage of these opportunities. The Department of International Trade’s “Education is GREAT” campaign is just one means of supporting UK companies aiming to facilitate Sri Lanka’s ambitions in the education sector.
What products or services have the potential for UK demand growth in the short to medium term? HANDS: Sri Lanka has a wealth of talent in ICT development, and the workforce has a proven ability to develop new software to sell to the world. Meanwhile, the continued development of the education system is likely to trigger increased competitiveness of Sri Lankan services, whether in accountancy, finance, law or a range of other burgeoning services sectors.
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