Canada–Lanka trade: Possibilities are wide says High Commissioner


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.