Published by EconomyNext on 26th July 2018

ECONOMYNEXT – China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) trade and infrastructure initiative and investments in Sri Lankan ports could be seen as an opportunity and not necessarily a threat, the head of the island’s biggest business chamber said.

Sri Lankan businesses cannot afford to ignore evolving international trade patterns, said Rajendra Theagarajah, chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

“The most visible of the two or three which are currently happening around us is the Maritime Silk Road initiative of China,” he told the Sri Lanka Logistics and Freight Forwarders’ Association (SLFFA) its 37th Annual General Meeting.

“ I don’t know whether your association is doing anything on this in terms of increasing awareness of the membership or identifying and saying ‘what does this mean to us, is it an opportunity or is it a threat?’” he said.

Theagarajah said his own research and having been a resource person in about half a dozen “think tank” discussions in the past 10 to 12 months indicates that not more than one in five Sri Lankans have even heard of China’s Silk Road initiative.

China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa through both land and maritime routes.

 “It is actually a necklace which the Chinese Government is intending to embrace, one in terms of the road connecting the eastern part of China with Western Europe. They will complete the necklace which they intend to cover through Sri Lanka,” Theagarajah said.

The government of Pakistan is already making use of China’s Maritime Silk Road, despite the internal conflicts they are currently facing, like what Sri Lanka faced for 30 years.

Pakistan has allowed the BRI to go through their country and have managed to get two bids for key infrastructure for the benefit of their country, Theagarajah said.

The Chinese are to invest in something like 4200 megawatts of renewable energy in Pakistan, which is effectively taking care of their entire energy requirements.

“The second thing is that, last year, based on public Google-able data, as a result of this road, cross border trade between Pakistan and the countries which embrace the BRI increased by 15% to USD1.1 trillion,” Theagarajah said.

“It just gives you some idea of the opportunity regardless of politics, if you embrace something just happening around you.
 
“There are two ways to look at it, is it a threat or is it an opportunity?,” Theagarajah said.

“I am not here to preach for the Chinese, but I just wanted to make just another comment which keeps on coming up in the domestic press about Hambantota and selling the port.”

Theagarajah said there were fears expressed of the ownership of Sri Lankan ports and the capacity of two of the largest Chinese shipping companies, Cosco Shipping and China Merchant Holding, the key investors in Sri Lanka today.

“Apparently they account for or they own not less than 20% of port capacity in Europe including 3 prominent ports in Valencia, Italy and in Greece. So again it’s a question of opening one's mind to see whether it is something to be worried about or you make something out of it,” Theagarajah said..

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