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Sri Lanka: A Land of Business Opportunities

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“Sri Lanka is a country of smiling people, when you go there once, you want to go again and again”, reminiscenced a young Vietnamese entrepreneur, who attended the Sri Lanka Business Conclave themed “SRI LANKA: Hub of the Indian Ocean-The Land of Business Opportunities” on 30th November 2017 at the Rex Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, having visited Sri Lanka recently. Yet another participant from the US, Ms. Sue McKinney, an attorney and a business consultant working and living in Viet Nam for over 20 years, was much vocal in sharing her fascination of Sri Lanka, especially noting her pleasant surprise when she received her visa within a few minutes of applying. 

The event was aimed at providing an open, informative and interactive platform, bringing together both Sri Lankan and Vietnamese business communities to discuss opportunities, exchange ideas, address challenges, for collaboration in a wide range of sectors including agriculture & fisheries, gem & jewellery, IT & related, apparel & garments, tourism, trade, healthcare, manufacturing and logistics sectors as well as explore investment opportunities. 

Ms. Bui Thi Thanh An, Deputy Director General of the Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency (VIETRADE) in Ho Chi Minh City represented Viet Nam at the event. H.E. Servio S. Samudio, Ambassador of Panama to Viet Nam, also accredited to Sri Lanka, too was a special invitee. Among others special invitees were the Chairperson of Ho Chi Minh City Association of Women Executives and Entrepreneurs (HAWEE), Ms. Cao Thi Ngoc Dung, CEO of PNJ Jewellery, one of Viet Nam’s largest jewellery businesses. Moderator for the event was Ms. Mayumi Lewke Bandara, Business Development Manager - Softlines, Leather & Footwear of Bureau Veritas Consumer Product Services (Viet Nam) Ltd. 

It was organized by the Embassy of Sri Lanka together with support from the Sri Lankan Community in Ho Chi Minh City and was attended by over 100 Vietnamese business community, including media as well as few expats and Sri Lanka professionals/entrepreneurs. 

Ambassador Hasanthi Dissanayake, briefed the participants on the agenda and introduced Sri Lanka briefly, highlighting how, over the centuries Sri Lanka’s geographical location has been, and continue to be playing, a crucial role in shaping its political and socio-economic destiny. She further highlighted the contribution of government-funded and education and healthcare’s contribution to the further development of the country. She further touched upon Sri Lanka’s recent developments, focusing on economics as well as strongly developing bilateral relations in a wide gamut of sectors. 

Making her remarks, Ms. Bui Thi Thanh An, Deputy Director General VIETRADE congratulated the event and she emphasized the importance of these kinds of events to promote bilateral economic cooperation between Sri Lanka and Viet Nam and referred to the visit of the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to Viet Nam in April 2017, during which the two Prime Ministers’ agreed to increase bilateral trade volume to US$ 1 billion in the coming years. 

This was followed by 03 Panel Discussions and the panelists comprised of Sri Lankan professionals/CEOs in Viet Nam and foreigners who have worked in/with Sri Lanka. The first was themed “Sri Lanka – Investment Opportunities: High Potential as a Logistic Hub and Finance Hub in the Indian Ocean”. The panelists were Mr. Hubert Knapp, Partner of CEO Scale360Solutions, a banking consultant and fintech expert who had served in many countries, including both Viet Nam and Sri Lanka, Mr. Kevin Perera, Hony. Consul for HCMC and  Managing Director, APS (Viet Nam) Ltd., Mr. Chinthaka Ransinghe, Managing Director of Pro Sport Co. Ltd. and Ms. Hasanthi Urugodawatte Dissanayake, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Viet Nam. The panel was moderated by Mr. Saman Bandara, Partner, Senior Vice President and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Ernest & Young Viet Nam. 

It commenced with a brief introduction to the theme with a PowerPoint presentation and  mainly focused on Sri Lanka’s regulations connected to financial and banking, ownership of land, inward and outward remittances when it comes to foreign direct investment, ease of setting up of 100% foreign owned companies, easy of moving in and moving out of foreign exchange connected to investment, Colombo Stock Exchange, vast opportunities in Sri Lanka as a logistic hub and projects available currently for investment. The Panelist Mr. Knapp discussed the comparative advantages that Sri Lanka offers to potential Vietnamese investor briefly, highlighting Sri Lanka’s strengths such as access to basic banking services, affordable serviced offices of different sizes to bridge the time until permanent office space has been acquired, and above all, access to affordable legal and accounting services as 03 most important operational aspects for a foreign investor. 

The Second Panel was themed “Sri Lanka Tourism: Nature and Heritage at its Best”, and was moderated by the Ambassador. The panelists included Mr. Dominic Scriven, Founder & Chairman, Dragon Capital and an investor of an eco-villa project in Weligama, Mr. Hijaaz Latheef, General Manager, Allezboo Beach Resort & Spa, Mr. Nalin Jayasundera, Managing Director of Aitken Spence Travels Ltd., and Mr. Y. B. Wijekoon, Director, Deluxe Vacation (Pvt) Ltd. 

This Panel generated much enthusiasm as among the participants were 18 from the travel industry and 19 from media. A brief Sri Lanka tourism video and the PowerPoint presentation by the Ambassador at the beginning provided the audience with some attractive insights to Sri Lanka as a tourist destination. Panel discussion brought about the multifaceted and wide range of tourism attractions. The importance of sustainable tourism, involving local community, sourcing food from local environment and training and recruiting local people too were discussed. 

Responding to a question, Mr. Wijesundra of Aitken Spence highlighted the concept of sustainable tourism with the importance of protecting cultural and natural heritages. The sustainable tourism features of Aitken Spence Hotels, especially Kandalama Hotel was highlighted. Both Mr. Wijesundara and Ambassador expressed the possibility of sharing Sri Lanka’s technical expertise connected to sustainable tourism with Viet Nam. Responding to Ms. Phan Thi Thu Hien, Director of Sales, Viet Media Travel, the Ambassador explained the wildlife and adventure opportunities available in Sri Lanka which would definitely excite the young Vietnamese adventure seekers, while, at every turn Sri Lanka provides amazing “selfie” capturing opportunities, which Vietnamese love to do wherever they are. She added that Sri Lanka is a hot spot for photography tourism and there are many foreign professional photographers visiting Sri Lanka for the purpose. She further quoted a comment of the National Geographic Magazine’s sustainable travel expert, Costas Christ, who has highlighted Sri Lanka among nine destinations around the world that are doing tourism right, and had said “a visit to rising ecotourism star Sri Lanka is kind of like having the best of Africa and Asia all rolled into a single easy-to-get-around island”. In terms of food she said there are many restaurants that cater to Chinese tourists, as Chinese are currently the number 2 in tourist arrivals in the country, but of course with a little bit of Sri Lankan spicy twist. Mr. Dominic Scriven highlighted that Sri Lanka’s Stock Exchange is an attractive destination to Vietnamese and it operates far effectively than the Vietnamese Stock Exchanges. 

The Third Panel was themed “Sri Lanka: A Land of Business Opportunities”. The panelists were Mr. Philippe Rechart, CEO of Siam City Cement (Viet Nam), who was the former CEO of Holcim Sri Lanka, Mr. Ganesan Ampalvanar, CEO of Nestle (Viet Nam), a Malaysian of Sri Lankan origin who has served in Nestle (Sri Lanka), Mr. Priyanga Aluthnuwara, Director of Indunil Gems and Mr. Ahzar Zawahir, Owner of Beauty Gems and the Ambassador. The moderator was Mr. Saman Bandara. 

The Panel discussions brought out an overview of current Sri Lankan exports as well as opportunities for trading of Sri Lankan goods and services in the backdrop of various trade frameworks that provide competitive business opportunities. With the presence of two panelists from the gem sector opportunities for bilateral trade in gem and jewellery from the gem sector, Sri Lankan gem & jewellery trade had detailed elaboration. Mr. Ampalvanar recalled his pleasant experience in living and working in Sri Lanka. He proudly noted that it was technology developed in Sri Lanka about 30 years ago that led to the manufacturing of coconut milk powder and that Sri Lanka is currently the world’s largest manufacturer and exporter of the product. 

During the Q & A Session Ambassador further elaborated on tax benefits that Vietnamese investors would get by manufacturing to South Asian markets especially through various FTAs and other trade agreements and arrangements Sri Lanka has with its neighbours; Mr. Rechart described his company’s experience as an investor with transferring from Lafarage (French) to Holcim (Swiss) and then to Siam City Cement (Thai) were all smooth processes in terms of both setting up of business as well as exiting. Responding to another query about a recent visitor to Sri Lanka about retain prices, Mr. Ampalvanar explained the role of the Consumer Protection Authority of Sri Lanka as a regulatory body. 

At the end of the third panel a lucky draw was held for the participants. Aitken Spence Travels and Deluxe Vacation offered two five-day tour packages and five gem-studded jewellery sponsored by Sunray Gems and Beauty Gems. The event ended with a networking reception with some of the Sri Lankan delicacies. Event continue to receive wide media coverage. 

Further, the Embassy organized separate meetings for the 06-member Sri Lankan business delegation in both Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City. 

Embassy of Sri Lanka - Ha Noi 

05th December 2017

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