Sri Lanka Japan Relations: Free and Open Indo-Pacific

With both Governments at the highest level agreeing to further deepen bilateral business relations, I strongly urge prospective Sri Lankan entrepreneurs to connect with Japanese companies to commence new business, while paying close attention to the cultural and business practices in Japan.

by Akira Sugiyama

I would like to congratulate the SLJBC on the successful convening of this event titled "Doing Business with Japan," and reiterate our appreciation for its actively promoting Japan-Sri Lanka business relations. Today, I am profoundly grateful to the Council for the privilege to speak a few words at this timely event.

Traditionally Japan and Sri Lanka have enjoyed strong economic and trading ties and in fact Japan ranks 4th and 9th in Sri Lanka’s import and export volume respectively. According to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, in 2018, exports from Sri Lankan to Japan accounts for US $ 226 million trading in products like apparels, tea and fisheries products, while imports from Japan amounts to US $ 1,585 million in products like motor vehicles and electrical products in the same year.

Although the trade volumes between Japan and Sri Lanka have been steadily increasing, there remains untapped potential for enhanced trade between our two countries.

Sri Lanka has an enormous potential to attract foreign investment in light of its geographical location as the hub of the east-west shipping route in the Indian Ocean; its proximity to the rapidly growing Indian Subcontinent and neighboring regions; its strong workforce with diligence, high-level education as well as proficiency in English. Naturally, we see the growing interest of Japanese companies keen to pursue business opportunities here in Sri Lanka. Admittedly, Sri Lanka has challenges in improving its business and investment environment, as discussed at the annual Japan-Sri Lanka Government-Private Joint Forum.

We admire the Sri Lankan Government’s efforts to address the challenges and, with the improved environment, more foreign direct investment, including from Japan, is expected to come to this beautiful country, finding good local partners like those present here today.

Let me touch upon the recent development of Japan-Sri Lanka relations.

First, I would like to highlight the visit to Sri Lanka of Motegi Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, in December last year, which was the first Foreign Ministerial visit from outside the South Asian region after the inauguration of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Foreign Minister Motegi paid courtesy calls on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and his Sri Lankan counterpart, Minister of Foreign Relations Dinesh Gunawardena. In those meetings, Motegi congratulated all on the new appointments and expressed profound commitment to furthering the traditional friendly relationship between our two countries. He also affirmed that Japan has strong intentions of advancing cooperation with Sri Lanka, including in the areas of infrastructure development, defense, maritime security and safety, and public safety. He also stressed that Sri Lanka is an important partner in pursuing the vision of a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific", FOIP in short.

As you may have seen in some newspaper reports, President Rajapaksa is scheduled to visit Japan to participate in the prestigious international conference "Future of Asia", which is to be held toward the end of May. This conference has been hosted by Nikkei newspaper since 1995 and many dignitaries, particularly from ASEAN counties, participated in this conference. With the participation of President Rajapaksa, this year’s conference’s focus will be definitely on South Asia.

When I paid a courtesy call on the President on Monday, I assured him that the Government of Japan will do whatever it can to make his visit a successful one, which will surely further strengthen our bilateral ties.

The Government of Japan remains committed to extending cooperation for enhancing the development and the business environment of Sri Lanka. We hope we can make good progress expeditiously on several important projects, including the development and management of the East Container Terminal of the Colombo South port, the improvement of the Bandaranaike International Airport, the digitalization of terrestrial TV broadcasting, the establishment of the Light Rail Transit System, the LNG project, and the construction of the Central Expressway Section.

Let me explain the Light Rail Transit (LRT) project in a little more detail.

The Government of Japan extended a loan package to the Government of Sri Lanka for the establishment of the Light Rail Transit System in Colombo. The purpose of this project is to mitigate heavy traffic congestion and advance the transport network in Colombo. The proposed Light Rail Transit System has been designed to enhance the connectivity between the administrative commercial hub of Colombo and the densely populated residential areas in the suburbs of Colombo.

The planned LRT System is approximately 15.7 km in length with 16 stations from Colombo Fort to Malabe via Battaramulla. This will reduce traveling time from Colombo Fort to Malabe to approximately 30 minutes. The loan offered is on highly concessional terms and conditions (40-year repayment period with the grace period of 12 years and 0.1% interest rate per annum).

We hope that this project will contribute a great deal to the social and economic development in Sri Lanka, especially in Colombo, by providing a safe, reliable and comfortable commuting system. In addition, this project has the potential to change the landscape of Colombo by stimulating urban development of the areas around the LRT stations, which might create ample business opportunities for Sri Lanka.

With both Governments at the highest level agreeing to further deepen bilateral business relations, I strongly urge prospective Sri Lankan entrepreneurs to connect with Japanese companies to commence new business, while paying close attention to the cultural and business practices in Japan. From this point of view, today’s topic "Doing Business with Japan" is quite appropriate and I look forward to the discussion later this evening.

Our Embassy is always ready to help the SLJBC strengthen ties between the entrepreneurs of our two countries. Let me conclude my remarks by wishing the SLJBC continued success in the years to come.

( The writer is Japanese Ambassador in Sri Lanka )


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