The 22nd annual AGM of the Sri Lanka Apparel Sourcing Association (SLASA) was held last Friday, where it was noted that Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and trade concessions should be treated with the same prominence as the country’s efforts to regain GSP+.
It was also highlighted that despite the strong currency, limited labour supply and lack of concessions, the industry had surged from $ 4.3 billion to $ 4.75 billion.
“We need to laud our major buyers and exporters for this momentum. Our members account for more than 72% of this export volume,” SLASA Chairman Anil Wettewe told the AGM.
“As a result, one can envisage that with trade concessions, reaching $ 6 billion in exports will not be too far-fetched. However, we should also closely look into all other countries including the USA, Japan and BRICS,” he added.
He stated that currently Sri Lanka was not operating in a level playing field and tougher times were ahead for the country as cheap labour would become a thing of the past. Another challenge will be the lack of FTAs, which is an advantage enjoyed by its competitors.
He added that the country was known as a lingerie destination by many buyers, however looking at niche products would help add adding further value and margins for the producer, which would subsequently lead to higher turnover.
He also revealed the that EDB had established links with ZARA, one of the largest retailers in Europe owned by Inditex, which would enable exporters to visit potential buyers and ZARA representatives to visit Sri Lanka to obtain a better understanding on business prospects.
Department of Commerce Director General R.D.S. Kumararatne was the Chief Guest at the AGM while Export Development Board Chairman BandulaEgodage was the Guest of Honour.
Kumararatne delivered a thought-provoking speech on GSP+ and FTAs at the event. He emphasised: “If the expectations of the Government amending the Constitution are realised, changes to the Government management system will bring positive results that may help our reapplication for GSP+. The EU is willing to guide us in our reapplication process.”Speaking about FTAs, Kumararatne stressed: “Under FTAs with India and Pakistan, in both countries we are eligible to export over 4,000 products but if you analyse the figures of our exports, they are concentrated on less than 1,000 products. We need to seriously think how to diversify and how to maximise these benefits.”
“In the proposed FTA with China, the major concentration about the expected benefit of the FTA relies on apparel products compared to other industries. In Sri Lanka I think the apparel sector is very well organised and also has a unified voice, therefore we believe the apparel sector will benefit because particularly in China there is a very large middle income population that is much larger than the entire population of Europe. We should look at how we can reap the best opportunities in this backdrop,” Kumararatne added.