While its own visiting investor delegation made busy preparations for one of the largest B2B’ sessions to be held in Colombo, Belgium, a top buyer of diamonds from Sri Lanka, declared that the forthcoming FTA with China ‘a major step for Sri Lanka’. “Sri Lanka’s forthcoming FTA with China is very interesting -and very important. In fact, it is a very important milestone and a major step for Sri Lanka” said Pierre Pringiers (Honorary Consul of Belgium in Sri Lanka) on 30 December in Colombo.
Consul Pringiers, who was accompanying the visiting 23 member Belgium business and investment delegation to Sri Lanka, was addressing the Lankan team led by Rishad Bathiudeen, Minister of Industry and Commerce on 30 December during the Belgium delegation’s meeting with Sri Lanka in Colombo. The visiting 26 member Belgium business and investment delegation is being led by Celine Fremault, the Minister of Economy, Employment, Scientific Research, Trade and Foreign Trade of Brussels-Capital Region. Among the Belgium firms with Minister Fremault were BESIX (large scale building construction including Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world, already active in Sri Lanka), Schréder (urban and street lighting), Sitomeca (corrugated steel, already active in Sri Lanka), CFE (construction, real estate, rail & road, marine engineering, already active in Sri Lanka) NAIA (fresh product import & export and supermarkets), MyGo Worldwide (travel software), reps from Wallonia’s Foreign Trade and Investment Agency, and Brussels Invest and Export. On Monday 02 December, the visiting firms are scheduled for more than 40 B2B sessions in Colombo (organised by Hon Consul Belgium and European Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka) with such Lankan corporates as Aitken Spence, Cargills, Mackinnons Travels (of John Keells Holdings), Nikini Automation, MTD Walkers, Havael, Jagro, Access and Maliban. Along with Minister Bathiudeen, also present were Anura Siriwardena (Secretary, Ministry of Industry and Commerce), Lakshman Vasantha Perera (Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce, R.D.S. Kumararatne (Director General of Commerce) and DoC officials as well as Shehan Kumar (Deputy General Manager-European Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka).
Brussels-Capital Region creates one fifth of Belgian GDP, hosts Belgium’s capital Brussles as well as the seats of the European institutions and has a strong service sector.
Addressing Minister Bathiudeen, Minister Fremault said: “This mission is one of the firsts from Brussels-Capital Region to Sri Lanka. We believe that trade between Sri Lanka and Brussels-Capital Region is low and there is yet unrealised potential in this regard. Today I have brought several top companies all of which are looking to partner with Sri Lanka. Infrastrucutre and many niche companies. Their sectors of operation are relevant to Sri Lanka’s new constructions. Some of them are already familiar with Sri Lanka as well.”
Minister Fremault is in a three day visit to Colombo arriving from her two day tour of Chennai. She will be headed to Hong Kong next. “I wanted to holiday in Sri Lanka this X’mas but since I could not find any hotel accommodations for me, I have to postpone it to next year” added a smiling Minister Fremault.
Responding to Minister Fremault, Minister Bathiudeen said: “You remember we discussed important ways to improve trade cooperation between us when I met you in Brussels. Your visit to Colombo is important for our relationship and investment activities. We need to encourage visits of business leaders of both countries which will create new beneficial opportunities. Sri Lanka’s trade with Belgium was $ 826 Mn last year. 13 Belgian firms have invested in Sri Lanka. Belgian firms investing in Sri Lanka can make use of our FTAs with India and Pakistan to access a 1.3 Bn South Asian market. Whatever the type of support Belgium needs-be it the Belgian trade counsellor or the investors-we shall extend our fullest cooperation and coordination.”
According to the Department of Commerce, bilateral trade between both countries has shown an upward trend for the last few years (except for 2012) rising by 11.2% since 2008’s $ 743.12 Mn. The total trade turnover in 2012 stood at $ 826.37 Mn. Sri Lanka has had a favorable balance of trade with Belgium over the years. Considerable diamond volumes shuttle between Belgium and Sri Lanka annually, dominating bilateral trade. In 2012, Belgium competed with UK, India, UAE, Russian Federation, Israel, and Hong Kong, to buy $ 241 Mn of diamonds from Sri Lanka.
Pierre Pringiers (Honorary Consul of Belgium in Sri Lanka), addressing Minister Bathiudeen, said: “Sri Lanka’s forthcoming FTA with China is very interesting -and very important. In fact, it is a very important milestone and a major step for Sri Lanka. China markets are difficult for everyone around the world. If Sri Lanka has assets such as the forthcoming FTA, it will greatly help the country to get into the China markets. I am also happy to say that I personally helped start solid tyre making in Sri Lanka when we started Bergougnan Lanka with AMW in 1980 and thereafter in 1984 Loadstar, with Jinasena. Since then, Sri Lanka has now become number one solid industrial tyre supplier in the world. And today twenty companies are following my trail since 1980. Sri Lanka is also well positioned to become a yacht hub in Asia.”
“We are a large Belgian group in building copnstruction, infrastructure, environmental and industrial projects. We work in many fields including power plants, geothermals, hotels, high-rise buildings including the Burj Khalifa in Dubai” said Paul Callebaut, BESIX Sri Lanka Resident Manager, who accompanied the delegation. “Burj Khalifa in Dubai is one of our top references. We built it with South Korea’s Samsung and Emirates’ Arabtec Construction. We are now looking forward to do high rise buildings in Colombo. We are already working with the Water Board in Monaragala in one bottling project. Other projects, other than water, also are in the pipeline.” BESIX reported a turnover of $ 2.8 Bn in 2012.