Takeaways from the Singapore Business Forum on the FTA

Last month I attended a business forum in Singapore held to generate awareness and interest among the Singaporean business community around the opportunities in Sri Lanka, anchored to the SLSFTA. I recap here four of the most memorable quotes by different speakers:

Wilson Lim, Executive Director of Commonwealth Capital (owners of recently opened restaurant ‘Pastamania’, which is part of their franchise) on why his company chose to enter Sri Lanka:

“The reason we chose Sri Lanka as our first entry into the region is that compared to the rest of South Asia, Sri Lanka has higher per capita income and better doing business indicators.”

Sonny Bensily, Managing Director, Prime Structures Engineering Pte Ltd (who did the ‘external dressing’ structure for the Marina Bay Sands, and are now doing one for the Cinnamon Life project) on his perspective on doing business with Sri Lankans:

“Sri Lankans are special people – they are genuine, hospitable, hardworking, and won’t short change you”

Minister S. Iswaran, Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations and Minister of Communications and Information, Government of Singapore on his message for Singaporean businesses:

“The SLSFTA has enabled partnership possibilities for both sides, now we need need sustained effort from both sides. […] Todays turnout is a reflection of the interest in opportunities in Sri Lanka, and this interest is growing very fast”

Francis Chong, Deputy Chief Trade Negotiator, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Government of Singapore, speaking on the FTA negotiations with Sri Lanka and the main highlights of that process:

“Sometimes in trade negotiations we tend to go round and round, but with [Sri Lanka’s Chief Trade Negotiator] K. J. Weerasinghe, it was not like this – he answered forthrightly, candidly, and truthfully”

In my remarks as a panelist in the final session, I summarized  three reasons why looking at Sri Lanka is a good bet for Singaporean firms:

a) Frontier market exposure – You get exposure to all the sectors that are growing in a frontier market, particularly with the lifestyles of a growing middle income population, as well as sectors like tourism, logistics, retail, property development, etc.

b) Regional play – Using Sri Lanka as a springboard and a testbed to the wider South Asian market, as well as access on preferential terms to large regional markets like India, China, and Pakistan; not many countries have this unique market access.

c) Good partners – In Sri Lanka you will find good partners; many companies are used to doing business with the West and the requirements of Western partners, including product compliance, business practices, etc.

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