Experts are reiterating the need for liberalisation to develop the maritime industry in Sri Lanka if it is to take full advantage of the geographical advantage.
Sri Lanka would have been the maritime hub in Asia. Only if it had embraced British and American companies who were keen to invest in Sri Lanka in the 1950s to boost the energy sector in the country. This is according to the Chairman of Advisory Committee on Logistics, EDB, Rohan Masakorala.
He was speaking at the inauguration of the national Public Private Dialogue on Maritime, Logistics and Transportation Reform.
It was held under the EU-Sri Lanka Trade Assistance project implemented by the International Trade Centre in Colombo last week.
“Sri Lanka today is languishing behind many regional economies as it stubbornly stuck to a closed door policy after independence whereas countries such as Singapore made leaping progress since it opened doors for the rest of the world to partner in development,” Masakorala said.
“We should have been the energy hub in the region. When we said no to foreign companies who were interested to partner local companies in the 1950’s one man in Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, put his hand up and welcomed foreign companies to Singapore. It has one of the world’s leading energy companies namely ExxonMobil, and this is how the transformation in Singapore came about.
“What are we today? Singapore welcomed the world to be partners in 1959 but we shut the door in 1961 following nationalisation policies that drove away foreign companies.
“Instead, what we have today is only the rickety Sapugaskanda refinery which is in the same position or in a worse condition today. As a result, we have lost an opportunity to be a hub for LPG, LNG, refinery, bunkering services and openings for tourism and financial services.”
He said there are around thousands of ships moving around Singapore which is a leader in bunkering services. Sri Lanka has to liberalise its ports and shipping industries and be competitive to develop a vibrant maritime industry.
Strategic position in Indian Ocean
State Minister of Finance Eran Wickramaratne called on all maritime stakeholders to have an open mind and move towards liberalisation. This is so as to gain from the country’s geographical position for ports and shipping business in the region.
“Sri Lanka has a strategic advantage due to its position in the Indian Ocean. However, we have captured only a small amount of the transshipment containers.
“The full potential of the maritime and logistics sector remains unfulfilled. The Government’s vision for the country is to achieve the maritime status by 2020,” the Minister said.
He said the government is developing Trincomalee, Colombo and Hambantota ports. The progress of the maritime industry in Singapore has leaped frogged. Sri Lanka has not because it lacked foreign participation in the industry. More competition will bring in enormous benefits on cost and competitive pricing.
“Liberalisation’ of the shipping industry proposed in the 2018 Budget was welcomed by many. However, some still think liberalising the shipping industry will not benefit the country. The launch of the SAGT and CICT terminals are good examples of liberalisation of the industry.
“If we do not engage global partners we will lose the advantage of our strategic location. Liberalisation of the shipping industry is a key stepping stone to build a maritime industry,” the Minister said.
Credit: Sunday Observer