In recent years, much of our foreign policy has been preoccupied with managing international relations related to the end of the war, human rights and governance issues. But as a country seeking to be a serious regional economic player, attracting foreign investment, and boosting prosperity for its citizens, it was high time we reoriented this. Our foreign policy now must necessarily have a strong trade and investment component with a strategically planned international business agenda.
It’s rather encouraging that this is being tackled as a priority by the Ministry of External Affairs, under the leadership of the Deputy Minister Hon. Dr. Harsha De Silva. There’s a new Joint Task Force on Economic Diplomacy under the Ministry, that is aiming for inter-agency cooperation to push the work forward, and its good to be a part of this effort representing both an economist’s and a private sector perspective.
In its narrowest form, Economic Diplomacy is about using Sri Lanka’s diplomatic assets to advance the country’s economic interests. But I suspect the Deputy Minister is planning on expanding the scope of this, to use a full spectrum of tools to advance our economic interests abroad – to get our exports into more markets, our companies investing in more ventures abroad, and more good investors attracted to opportunities here. I also hope it would encompass diaspora engagement – for investment as well as skills and knowledge transfer.
In August I wrote an op-ed calling for a post-election reform agenda that makes the Sri Lankan economy more open to the world and helping more companies ‘go global’. It’s heartening to see moves already underway to take these forward, under the leadership of the Deputy Foreign Minister.
But of course, it’s a new discourse in Sri Lanka. “Using foreign policy towards achieving economic goals”, “economic diplomacy” … What do these mean for the private sector? How can the private sector latch on, how can it contribute, and what is the role of the state?
A recent LBR LBO forum was the first business gathering to try and unpack this. Some of the videos are up on their Youtube page:
Dr. Harsha De Silva : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8CQXLbhzxY
Alex Lovell : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wiTFBY33gA