The Annual general meeting of the Council for Business with Britain (CBB) was held in Colombo on 31 July, 2013. The full text of the speech of the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka is given below.
Mr Chairman, members of the Council for Business with Britain.
I am very pleased to welcome you all to the British High Commission here this evening. The High Commission, including its UK Trade and Investment team, and the CBB rightly have a close working relationship. That is because we have common goals in promoting effective commercial relations between Sri Lanka and the UK.
Between us we are doing quite well. The UK remains Sri Lanka’s second largest trade partner by volume, after India. In 2012 Sri Lanka exported £907 million worth of goods to the UK, a 13% increase from the previous year. UK exports to Sri Lanka amounted to £146 million – a rather large trade balance in favour of Sri Lanka, which I would like to see become more equal.
Latest figures also show that the UK is within the top 5 investors in Sri Lanka. We have over 100 UK companies successfully operating here, and expanding their businesses as the Sri Lankan economy grows.
We are also winning new business. In the past quarter, I have been delighted by major multi million pound contracts won by UK companies in the construction sector and in the airline sector, for both air frames and aero engines. These contracts have amounted in total to over US $ 3 billion worth of business. They are good for the UK economy and for Sri Lanka.
Education is another growing sector, on which we work together with our colleagues in the British Council. There are now 27 UK Universities providing access to their qualifications here in Sri Lanka in partnership with local education partners. And one UK University has well developed plans to set up the first direct overseas university campus in Sri Lanka in 2015 – a first in South Asia.
There are nonetheless challenges ahead. There has been some softening in Sri Lankan economic growth. Figures for the first quarter of this year show a slight decrease in Sri Lankan export to the UK. Growth in the UK also remains sluggish.
But there are some encouraging signs. The UK economy grew in the second quarter of this year, driven by a strong performance in the services sector. Manufacturing and construction also expanded after a poor performance in Q1, providing further evidence that the UK economic recovery is beginning to take hold. A study from the British Chamber of Commerce also suggested that exporting activity is at its highest level since 2007. UK exports to Sri Lanka in January to April 2013 amounted to £53 million, an 11% increase compared to 12 months ago.
The biggest headline for the UK is that we remain by some distance the top destination for inward investment in Europe. We have maintained this position by being an open economy, helping businesses to set up quickly with transparent regulations and clear tax and cost structures.
We want to support Sri Lanka in its drive to attract further FDI. In that context we similarly urge increased transparency, simpler regulation and faster procedures, good governance and respect for the rule of law. It is these factors that can provide the certainties and assurances that companies require if they are to invest here.
Some of this can be done quickly, some perhaps in the longer term. But in the short term, my work and that of the High Commission as a whole is of course very much focussed on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting this November.
Prince Charles will be attending CHOGM, representing Her Majesty the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth. Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague will represent the British Government.
The spotlight will be on Sri Lanka during CHOGM. As my Ministers have made clear, we will look to Sri Lanka, as we would any host, to demonstrate its commitment to Commonwealth values, including on freedom of expression, freedom of the media and respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Our hope is that CHOGM will be a success and we will continue to work towards that end, including through our engagement in preparations for the Commonwealth Business Forum. We hope that the forum will provide further substantive business opportunities for partnerships between UK companies and the public and private sectors in Sri Lanka.
I thank you, Mr Chairman, and the outgoing committee members for their work, and look forward to working with and supporting the incoming committee.
I look forward to the continued partnership between the High Commission and my UKTI team, and all of you in CBB, in the year ahead.