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Sri Lanka export shift to Asia seen difficult

Sri Lankan exporters face difficulties in trying to shift from traditional markets in the West which are stagnant or growing only slowly to fast-growing emerging markets in Asia, an official said.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Anura Ekanayake, former chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, the island’s top business chamber.

Exporters’ products, production lines and business relationships are mostly shaped to suit Western markets and big changes would be needed to shift focus towards the East, he told a recent forum at the American Center.

“In trying to shift from West to East you’ve got to be careful,” he warned, noting that it was not as simple as switching ‘points’ in a railroad to change the tracks of a train.

“Sri Lankan policy makers talk as if an instant track change is possible,” he said. “Such changes are not easy and can’t be done overnight. It means big costs for exporters.”

While finding new markets in fast-growing Asia was desireable, exporters had noted that it would take time to build new relationships with buyers, design new products and change their production lines, he said.

He was referring to the change from Western to Eastern markets advocated both by government as well as international lending agencies as an answer to declining potential in traditional Western markets to which over half the island’s exports now go.

Exporters have been urged to switch focus as Western markets are seen in decline given the budget deficit and debt problems in the United States and parts of Europe.

The call has come as strains in Sri Lanka’s relations with the West over allegations of human rights abuses in the war against Tamil Tiger separatists which ended in 2009 affect export prospects.

The European Union refused to extend its GSP Plus trade deal giving duty free access to Sri Lankan exports over the allegations which have also come up for discussion at recent United Nations human rights fora.
Sept 26, 2011 (LBO)


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