Address by the Chairman at the 182nd Annual General Meeting of CCC

Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya, Chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC).

Following is the address by Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya, Chairman of CCC:

It gives me great pleasure to present the Chairman’s Report at the 182nd Annual General Meeting of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

Private Sector Resilience

The year in review was characterised by the unique impacts of the Covid-19 Pandemic, both direct and indirect, on our Nation, Economy and People.  We can be proud that the private sector demonstrated abundantly, its resilience to the harsh and prolonged externalities

It is notable that most listed companies reported positive earnings in recent quarters signalling recovery under the conditions of the new normal. Similarly, a sharp recovery in exports stands testimony to the resilience of Sri Lanka’s export sectors. It is emboldening to see the recovery of both traditional and non-traditional exports and the diversification of the export basket which augurs well for the future.

The challenges faced by Sri Lanka, its government and economy, are singularly un-precedented and we commend the Government on the the structured approach underlying the country’s Economic Revival framework and the maintenance of stability across macro indicators through these exceptional times. The balancing act between growth and debt will however remain a call-out for precise navigation.

A Shared Vision for Accelerated Post-Covid Revival

Throughout the year in review, the Ceylon Chamber directed a major quotient of its focus and activity towards assisting both the Government and the private sector in enabling an accelerated recovery from the downside impacts of the pandemic.

The Chamber has consistently espoused the view that an accelerated post-covid recovery will be predicated on the effective execution of a Public-Private Shared Vision for Economic Revival and Social Sustenance. This vision is based on the three founding principles of: (i) People Centricity translating to the Primacy for the Protection of Life and Livelihoods, (ii) the ambition of a ‘V Shaped’ Economic Recovery and (iii) the need and appetite for exceptional, bold and innovative measures which include exceptional stimuli for growth regeneration, alongside calibrated controls.

Bringing together the twin aspirations of People Centricity and Economic Revival, the Chamber’s flagship event the Sri Lanka Economic Summit was aptly themed ‘Road Map for Take-Off – Driving a People Centric Economic Revival’.

Positioning Sri Lanka as Asia’s Next Growth Haven

The Chamber recognizes the indelible interplay between the External and Internal Dimensions to the broader vision of economic revival. From among the recovery levers, FDI and Export growth will remain crucial.

In line with the imperative of accelerating the growth of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as well as Portfolio Investments, the Ceylon Chamber took the pioneering step of convening a Global Investment Forum in collaboration with the Board of Investment and the Colombo Stock Exchange. The Sri Lanka Investment forum was designed to provide a global showcase for Sri Lanka’s FDI and Portfolio investment opportunities.

The Chamber in the New Normal

During the year under review, the Chamber continued to be focused and impactful in its advocacy of key issues of importance to the membership, affiliated associations and the private sector at large.

The engagement with government has at all times been progressive, and reflective of the chamber’s dual role as a partner in economic development while being the non-partisan voice of the private sector. The Chamber is singularly appreciative of the opportunity provided to share its views both at a macro and national level, as well as at a level of sectoral detail, with the high offices of His Excellency the President, the Honourable Prime Minister and other government institutions.

The Sector Steering Committees and National Agenda Committees of the Chamber continued to support policy agendas on behalf of the membership. Adapting to the New Normal, the Chamber continued to deliver impact unfaced by the physical engagement restrictions accruing from the pandemic. The Chamber executed successfully, a broad spectrum of Policy and Business Promotion related activities using virtual formats including Virtual Networking Sessions, Training Programmes, Webinars, and Virtual B-2-B meetings.

During the year, the Chamber launched The Council for Start-ups, an entrepreneurship facilitator aimed at providing entrepreneurs with a platform to accelerate business formation and facilitate broader engagement with the formal private sector as well as the Government.

The chamber also espoused its commitment to SME development agendas through the hosting of an SME forum bringing together regional chambers and SMEs from across Sri Lanka.

The Chamber continued to be deeply committed to the advocacy of sustainable business practices and hosted the Best Corporate Citizen Sustainability Awards for the 17th consecutive year. The awards programme continued to provide a guiding beacon for Sri Lankan corporates with respect to Environmental, Social and Governance best practices.

Sri Lanka Economic Acceleration Framework 2021-26

Sri Lanka’s economy contracted for the first time since 2001 due to the sharp fall in the economy during the first wave of the pandemic featuring a 16.4% contraction in the April-June quarter. The efficacy of economic revival measures was reflected in the 1.3% GDP growth recorded in the two subsequent quarters of 2020.

The Ceylon Chamber published the Post-Covid edition of the Sri Lanka Economic Acceleration Framework (SEAF). The SEAF 2021-26 envisions the achievement of a growth rate of 7% within 3 years leading to the transformation of the 84Bn US Dollar economy in 2019 to a 127.5 Bn. US Dollar Economy in 2026.

The SEAF is the output of 17 committees within the chamber eco-system comprising of more than 100 economists, analysts and sector leaders, and encompasses without limitation the dimensions of quantitative targets, policy reform, sectoral focus, transformation, governance and Reputational and Confidence metrics.

The Partnership Dialogue with Government

Quantum acceleration of the economy will require a synchronisation of public and private sector inputs. The application of policy levers will proxy to needle moving Government contributions to the acceleration of the economy and will deliver disproportionate returns. Efficient and timely execution of Mega Projects would also move the needle.

A parallel call on government would be for a high degree of commitment towards the strengthening of fiscal and monetary disciplines, maintenance of macro stability and the elevation of sector competitiveness alongside a progressive approach to global market access. Staying the course of fiscal consolidation will be pivotal in maintaining positive sentiments of Global Rating agencies as well as in motivating foreign direct investments which together will bolster the sources and cost of capital require to drive growth.

Stakeholder Contribution – Appreciation

The Chamber is deeply grateful to the Officials, Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Government of Sri Lanka whose collaboration has been invaluable in maintaining a progressive public – private dialogue on matters pertaining to the advancement of the National Economy.

We also recognise the invaluable contribution extended by the Chamber Committee, National Agenda Committees and Steering Committees, towards the multiple agendas pursued by the Chamber. The collaboration extended to us by associate and joint chambers, trade associations, diplomatic missions and partner organisations across multilateral and non-government sectors is also deeply appreciated. We are also grateful to Print, Electronic and Digital media institutions for their invaluable contribution in facilitating our role as the voice of the private sector.

I would like to express my personal gratitude to Vice Chair – Vish Govindasamy, Deputy Vice Chair – Duminda Hulangamuwa and fellow board members, the Secretary General/CEO – Manjula De Silva, Deputy Secretary General – Alikie Perera, Chief Economist – Shiran Fernando and the dynamic Ceylon Chamber Team, for their dedication and unfailing commitment towards furthering the contribution of the Chamber to its Members and the nation at large.

The Journey Ahead

Sri Lanka stands at an important juncture of its economic and social trajectory. We have on one hand the challenge of achieving vertical take-off from the fulcrum of the Covid-19 downturn while on the other, having to navigate an escape from the middle-income trap.

Achieving both these objectives while operating within a very tight fiscal space and perfecting the balancing act between growth and debt, is a multi-faceted challenge that the Private Sector and Public sector needs to embrace together.

The call of the hour is therefore to have no forbearance for despondence. As the engine of growth of our nation’s economy, the private sector needs to be resolute in its commitment to remobilize an aggressive growth trajectory, and to lead the charge towards an inclusive and people centric revival of the Sri Lankan Economy.