Theagarajah SimplifiedTradeTariffPublished by Sunday Observer - 27th May 2018

It is time for the government to demonstrate policy consistency as a key ingredient for predictability. It also needs to have a focused drive to review and simplify trade tariff, as Sri Lanka, being an island nation, has to rely on international trade as a crucial element for economic growth and must be championed by a well-crafted export strategy with heavy emphasis on innovation and value addition, the Chairman, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC) Rajendra Theagaraja said.

Prof Ricardo Haussman recently has presented an eye opening series of facts based on evidence to support what has contributed to the success of few other Asian economies which have adopted an export focused economic strategy. We should make good use of these findings,” he said at an interview with Business Observer.

However, he said that skilled labour is a huge challenge as our country has suffered a serious exodus of talent over the past three decades and we are now trying to build a competitive innovation friendly economy with the pool of remaining talent in the country. We should create an enabling environment for international talent including diaspora to look at Sri Lanka and benefit from a fusion of skills transfer, he said.

Excerpts:

Q: What are the key priorities that your Chamber needs to address to further its agenda?

A. Among the key priorities that the CCC needs to address are continuous investment in building strong institutional capacity to support a secretariat-led Chamber.

This is extremely important for continuity and to engage in policy advocacy based on objective evidence based decisions. This also involves regular internal review of the chamber talent pool and nurture an effective succession plan.

The Chamber governance structure is driven by a Committee and a Board comprising nine members. Succession planning is again considered important to regularly infuse new talent from Chamber members into both these bodies so that the secretariat is backed continuously by a vibrant policy making committee and Board of Directors.

The Chamber considers creating awareness among the public to be very important. Therefore, timely dissemination of information to the public, bureaucracy and membership is crucial. Designing and implementing an effective communication system using both conventional print and social media including weekly you tube clips on economy updates, interviews with personalities of interest to membership has been recognised as important initiatives to create awareness and disseminate valuable information to the society at large.

The CCC has consistently positioned itself as Sri Lanka’s premier business Chamber representing the voice of business. Today, we recognise the importance of collaboration and power of inclusive advocacy. In this, context, efforts are being made to re-activate the Joint Business Forum which would consist of other key chambers in the country such as the National Chamber of Commerce, International Chamber of Commerce, National Chamber of Exporters, COYLE (young Lankan Entrepreneurs), JAAF (Joint Apparel Association Forum), etc. While preserving the unique identities of each Chamber, the JBF would focus on identifying key advocacy issues common to all members (of JBF) and engage on a common platform with relevant authorities. One current issue has been the need for inter racial and communal harmony as a critical ingredient to foster national socio-economic prosperity.

Q : How have you gained commitment from your team?

A. Team commitment has come from being an effective listener, giving ample opportunity for diverse views on important issues to members of the committee, the Board as well as chamber staff while also being decisive in moving such conversations towards actionable outcomes. Secondly, personal commitment of time and effort to support the secretariat whenever needed, has been appreciated.

At Board level, for the past few years there has been a very good understanding between the serving chairman, the deputy and vice chairmen to focus on continuity and giving strong support in driving CCC based on its TEN PRINCIPLES regardless of the individual(s) who sit in leadership positions.

Q : How much can business and the private sector do to really drive change?

A. The state today plays a major role in economic activity mainly through State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). While these SOEs play an important part in implementing Government’s policy as well as managing large resources, they often suffer criticism of inefficiency, need of productivity enhancement and need of competitive advantage in being in the sector/business they operate. Private sector has a unique opportunity of projecting itself as the benchmark for SOEs to rise in efficiency , resource optimization and profitability and often private sector representation on SOE boards benefits these boards from new thinking and becoming competitive similar to private sector peers.

Q : What are the immediate steps that the govt. should take to tackle the GDP growth?

A. It’s time for the government to demonstrate policy consistency as a key ingredient for predictability.

Second, a focused drive to review and simplify trade tariff as Sri Lanka being an Island nation has to rely on international trade as a crucial element for economic growth.

Third, economic growth must be championed by a well-crafted export strategy with heavy emphasis on innovation and value addition. Prof. Ricardo Haussman recently has presented an eye opening series of facts based on evidence to support what has contributed to the success of few other Asian economies which have adopted an export focused economic strategy.

We should make good use of these findings. Fourthly, skilled labour where our country has suffered a serious exodus of talent over the past 3 decades and we are now trying to build a competitive innovation friendly economy with the pool of remaining talent in the country.

We should create an enabling environment for international talent including diaspora to look at Sri Lanka and benefit from a fusion of skills transfer.

Q : How could your members support government’s plans?

A. Our membership comprises Lanka’s leading business houses to vibrant Small and Medium sized businesses. As the leading Chamber representing the ‘voice of business’, we have the capacity and willingness to engage with the government and its bureaucracy in understanding policy and national economic growth plans and provide our membership with timely and relevant information which helps business to leverage of the enabling environment to succeed.

We have always been committed to support government’s development agenda that will benefit the people of this country. Similarly, we have the framework in place to harness issues relevant to our membership and engage in policy advocacy with policymakers. The Government has a unique opportunity (if it so desires) to use the CCC as a key barometer to measure business confidence in its policy implementation effectiveness.

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