JUNE 28, 2015. Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Canadian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Ms. Shelley Whiting
Canada is among the top 10 entrepreneurial economies in the world occupying No 1 in the G7 as ‘the best place to invest and do business’ and ‘the easiest place to start a business.’ The country also claims one of the healthiest banking systems in the world. With a current merchandise trade volume of USD 480 million with us, Canada is our 15th import designation. In an interview with Sunday Island, the Canadian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Ms. Shelley Whiting, elaborated on the recent agreement made between the Export Development Board (EDB) and Trade Facilitation Office Canada (TFO Canada) to extend support Sri Lankan SME exporters to Canada, one of the biggest import markets in the world and the importance of enhancing bilateral trade between the two countries.
by Randima Attygalle
Q: How would the recently launched partnership between the Trade Facilitation Office Canada (TFO Canada) and the Export Development Board (EDB) of Sri Lanka, help solidify the bilateral trade between the two countries?
A: This initiative is aimed at strengthening EDB’s capacity to assist Sri Lankan SME exporters to make further inroads into the lucrative Canadian market. TFO Canada’s activities under this agreement is financed by the government of Canada through Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada and comes under the purview of TFO Canada’s 2014-18 Canadian Market Access and Capacity Building Services Program.
The collaboration offers Sri Lankan exporters many benefits including increased access to information about the Canadian market. It will also increase connectivity between Canadian importers and associations with Sri Lankan exporters; capacity building of the EDB including Canadian market familiarization tours, market entry study and training programs. Through this partnership which is supported by the Trade Commissioner Service in Sri Lanka, the Canadian Government anticipates a marked increase of trade between the two countries. The MOU will be operative until 2018 and we fervently hope that there will be continued opportunities to build and exchange between the two countries.
Q: Can you brief us on Canada’s international trade volumes at present and Canada’s major exports and imports?
A: According to our most recent trade statistics, Canada’s total merchandise trade with the world in 2014 was USD 846 billion dollars. This is a very large amount and represents almost a 10% growth over the preceding year. Canada is very active in the international economic market with a stable business environment, a highly educated workforce, diverse funding opportunities, low tax rates and a sound banking system. Canada’s merchandise exports to the world is USD 425,108 million and our top exports are found in the areas of energy, mining and in traditional agricultural products such as wheat, lentils and the forestry sector including newsprint and timber. There are also growing exports across a broad spectrum of other new technologies and products.
Canada’s merchandise imports from the world is USD 414,502 million and among the major imports are motor vehicles, trailers, bicycles, motorcycles, boilers and mechanical appliances.
Q: What is the mechandise trade volume between Sri Lanka and Canada?
A: In the USD 846 billion worth export market of Canada (as at 2014) merchandise trade volume with Sri Lanka was USD 480 million. Total exports from Canada are valued at USD 310 million, with nearly 94% constituting of wheat and lentils. Top ten exports from Sri Lanka are knitted or crocheted apparel, woven apparel, rubber products, fisheries, tea, coffee and spices, machinery and mechanical appliance, textile fibers, yarns and fabrics, fats, oils, waxes, leather accessories and gems totaling USD 170 million last year.
Sri Lanka is Canada’s 16th export designation and Canada occupies the 15th import designation of Sri Lanka. Although Canada-Sri Lanka trade relations are still modest, I’m very much encouraged by the mutually-beneficial opportunities available.
Q: Other than the above mentioned traditional Sri Lankan exports to Canada, what are the new areas the Canadian government intends to explore?
A: Although we have been largely ‘agriculturally-bent’ and focused on traditional goods in terms of our trade relationship with Sri Lanka, we are certainly considering expanding to new fields. We are looking at areas such as infrastructure and green energy and also education and ICT. In terms of education, Canada offers some of the world’s best international educational opportunities. There are many Sri Lankan students studying in Canada and I’d like to see a larger Sri Lankan student population over there. Therefore I would say, we certainly are looking forward to expanding our traditional markets. The Canadian Government through the Global Market Action Plan aims to increase the number of markets that we trade with and to establish a priority to expand the number of Canadian companies, mostly SME exporters who are engaged in international trade.
Q: What are the forums -both Canadian and local, committed to bilateral trade?
A: Apart from the High Commission of Canada here in Colombo and the High Commission of Sri Lanka in Ottawa as well as the Consul General’s Office in Toronto, there is a line of other forums committed to the cause in both countries. Sri Lanka’s premier state organization mandated to promote and develop the country’s exports- EDB is represented in Canada and also there is the Canada-Sri Lanka Business Council based in Toronto. The Canadian Commercial Cooperation and Export Development Canada are institutions that are willing to partner with Canadian companies on financing requirements for local projects. TFO Canada is a non-profit organization with the mandate to facilitate access to the Canadian market place and share Canadian trade expertise for the benefit of smaller exporters in developing countries.
Here in Colombo there is Canada-Sri Lanka Business Council. The Trade Commissioner Service of both countries is a tremendous source for promoting business between the two countries and looking at investment opportunities. Our global diplomatic network is also a robust tool in connecting the two countries with appropriate trade links.
Q: How do you think the Sri Lankan migrant community could be engaged in economic diplomacy?
A: The two countries have shared a long-standing relationship in a broad spectrum of spheres including trade and I believe that the expertise of the Sri Lankan migrant community could be productively harnessed here as they are conversant with the social and economic fabric of both countries.
Q: Can you say something about Canada’s trade volumes with countries in this region?
A: Canada- India trade volume is USD 5,133 million and with Pakistan it’s 570 million. With Bangladesh it’s USD 1,567 million. If we consider the Eastern quarters, with Cambodia, we share a trade volume of USD 679 million.
Q: What do you perceive as Sri Lanka’s strengths in the sphere of international trade?
A: The fact that the country is located on the cross roads of shipping lanes is a bonus as it provides easy access to other markets as well. In terms of logistics, the small size of the island can be an advantage where trade distribution channels are concerned. Sri Lanka can also be very proud of her high literacy levels and her highly skilled labor force. Sri Lankans are also very technologically-savvy which is another advantage for connectivity required in international trade.
Q: Finally, how conducive is the post-conflict phase of the country to promoting trade between the two countries?
A: It has been very encouraging I must say. In my two years in Sri Lanka, I have seen a lot of effort in building the infrastructure. However, physical infrastructure should go hand-in-hand with societal rebuilding as well. However as I said earlier, it has been encouraging to see the Sri Lankan Government’s commitment to work forward, which in fact was highlighted in Prime Minister Harper’s message to the new President of Sri Lanka. Therefore while assisting in the reconciliation efforts of this phase, Canada will continue to be a development partner.
Canada’s bilateral development cooperation is two-pronged: sustainable economic growth focusing on the private sector development and vocational training especially among the disadvantaged youth so that they could equip themselves with skills needed. And the second by contributing to reconciliation through promoting language rights so as to ensure citizens have access to public services in the official language of their choice. We are eager to further our connections with this country and to support Sri Lanka’s efforts to achieve sustainable economic growth.
(Pic by Sujatha Jayaratne) – Courtesy: The Island.