Consul General seeks to forge tighter ties
For Sri Lanka, it was the first time that a person from the private sector was appointed as the South Asian nation's consul general to Shanghai. Anura Fernando, who calls himself "a person who wants to be on the go," has been active in linking businesses and matching needs and supplies from both countries. In a recent interview with Shanghai Daily, he talked about economic relations between Sri Lanka and China and his contributions so far to forging tighter links between the two countries.
Fernando started working as Consul General of Sri Lanka in Shanghai last November.
Q: First, could you please tell us how Sri Lanka is doing during the pandemic and whether its economy is recovering?
A: Despite the fact that we still have 200 to 300 COVID-19 cases a day, our death rate is very low, so we cannot afford to lock the country down. Sri Lanka has opened up. We have started the work on infrastructure development. The government has given a boost to the private sector. Businesses that suffered in the pandemic are given a moratorium on their outstanding loans. Tourism is open, so anyone who has got fully vaccinated can come to Sri Lanka.
So far our economy has recovered to about 50 percent of the pre-pandemic level, but things are gradually getting back on track again. We have just depreciated the rupee, so people have an incentive to export.
We're aware of the potential impact the conflict between Russia and Ukraine can have on our economy. We export a lot of tea to Russia and Ukraine, and we have a lot of tourists from those two countries. The prices of gas and oil, our major imports, are up. Otherwise we're doing well at the moment.
We're waiting with open arms for Chinese tourists to come. The Sri Lanka government has given support to hotels for refurbishing. Right now we have a lot of European tourists coming to Sri Lanka. Prices are cheaper than before the pandemic.
Q: Which sectors is Sri Lanka striving to draw foreign investment to at present?
A: The development of the alternative energy sector is given top priority in our country. We are setting eyes on BOO (Build-Own-Operate) or BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) projects. We're also looking for investors for road and rail projects and the development of ports. We have a few industrial zones where foreign investors are entitled to incentives. Also, anyone who invests US$100,000 in Sri Lanka can get a residence visa.
Q: What is the presence of Chinese companies in capital projects in Sri Lanka?
A: Chinese companies already have a solid presence in Sri Lanka on various projects. A major project going on between Sri Lanka and China is the Colombo Port City which is a joint venture between China Harbor and the Sri Lanka government. We're hoping to launch the Financial Center in the Port City very soon. This is a major financial and investment project in Sri Lanka.
Here in Shanghai, we have started negotiations with Universal Energy on a renewable energy project. The company has visited Sri Lanka many times and I have visited their office and laboratories here. They're interested in setting up a joint venture with Hayleys, a diversified conglomerate in Sri Lanka, to build solar and wind power plants in Sri Lanka.
China is a world market leader in the area of renewable energy because all the components of such energy systems are manufactured here. This makes China very competitive in terms of prices in comparison to European countries.
Q: How are trade relations between Sri Lanka and China? What products from Sri Lanka can be found on the Chinese market?
A: Sri Lanka has a lot of great products, and here in Shanghai they will surely find a market. However, still very few products from Sri Lanka can be found on the shelves of supermarkets in China. I haven't even seen Dilmah, our world famous tea brand. Marketing work will be a part of my job here.
Right now I'm trying to find a good distributor here for our world famous herbal brand Spa Ceylon which has products ranging from cosmetics to herbal oil. Some of its products are sold over the Internet here, but we're yet to officially export them to China after they get approval from the food and drug administration here.
Our famed Sri Lanka tea, I think, hasn't yet been properly marketed in China. Apart from black tea, Sri Lanka is now making green tea as well. We have a range of value-added teas with different flavors. We want to promote that in China.
China is also a huge potential market for our gems and jewelry. Gems from Sri Lanka are very popular here, especially the Blue Saffire. Our famous Lion beer also looks to make its way into the China market.
I'm looking forward to the signing of the free trade agreement between our two countries.
Q: What other potential do you think Sri Lanka and China can tap in terms of deepening trade and investment relations between the two countries?
A: Right now I'm also linking a gas cylinder supplier in Hubei Province with my country. The Hubei company got approved by authorities in Sri Lanka in terms of the standard of their products two years ago. I have also been sourcing bio-fertilizer machinery manufacturers in China for my country.
A couple of banks from Sri Lanka are interested in setting up branches in Hainan Province. I'm also working on that.
The problem is that we don't have an agency here in China. For my term, I hope to establish a trade center for Sri Lanka here and to have a Chinese company run it. I hope to appoint a Chinese honorary consul here in Shanghai representing Sri Lanka.
We hope business representatives will be able to travel to Shanghai for this year's China International Import Expo. They missed out last year due to the pandemic. Having only our embassy staff at our booth won't land true success for us. A businessman has to sell his own product.