Colombo: Sri Lanka, in a drive to explore new global markets to expand its trade as the current economic crisis in the country's two biggest markets, United States and the Euro Zone, has reduced the export earnings, has invited Uganda to jointly explore African continent's promising growth. During the first Sri Lanka - Uganda Business Forum held Tuesday (November 13) in Colombo, visiting Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni called Sri Lanka to use African bloc COMESA's trade facilities through his country. Sri Lanka, in turn, invited Uganda to jointly explore the growing markets in Africa.
"Uganda is an active member of Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the combined Africa Free Trade Zone (AFTZ) and East African Community (EAC) all of which we see as promising growth markets. Sri Lanka and Uganda can work together to jointly leverage these growth segments for mutual benefits (in the medium and long term)" said Rishad Bathiyutheen, Minister of Industry and Commerce at the forum.
The first Sri Lanka - Uganda business forum was facilitated by Sri Lanka's Export Development Board with the participation of the high level delegation led by President Museveni, who arrived in the country Monday on a three-day visit to meet investors and senior government officials.
Comparing Uganda's and Sri Lanka's economic growths the Sri Lankan Minister said according to the IMF Uganda is expected to record strong economic growth through next year and UNDP's human development index puts Uganda's household incomes, education and health indicators above the regional average.
Speaking of Sri Lanka's growth, the Minister noted that Sri Lanka registered 8.3% GDP growth rate in 2011, the highest in the country's post-independence history.
"We expect to sustain growth momentum of at least over 7% for the coming years which is of course much higher than that of world average. The result is that now we are placed among emerging economies," Minister Bathiyutheen said.
President Museveni inviting Sri Lankan businesses to invest in Uganda told the forum that the COMESA market of which Uganda is a member has a 500 million population market capacity and the EAC is also another market of more than 500 million.
"We are also working towards the African common market which is one billion markets with great potential," he added. "Apart from the internal African market, you can also export 6,500 products to US, tax free and quota free. Same type of access to EU and China. Therefore when you invest in Uganda, you secure duty free access to US, EU and China with low labour cost but skilled workforce," the visiting President explained.
Although Sri Lankan private sector participants at the forum expressed excitement at the prospects of the Ugandan market, they were apprehensive about Uganda's tax regimes which according to some Sri Lankan entrepreneurs are somewhat restricted.
Uganda dropped a one notch to 120th place among 185 countries in the Doing Business Rankings for 2013.
As Sri Lanka's exports to European and US markets continue to decline with the slowdown of their economies, the Sri Lankan government is taking efforts to expand into unexplored regions.
The International Monetary Fund recently urged Sri Lanka to woo growing Asian markets to boost its declining export earnings to support the economic growth and to diversify against shocks coming from economic slowdowns in other parts of the world.
The Ugandan delegation led by President Museveni included First Lady Janet Museveni Members of Ugandan Parliament Yorokamu Katwiremu and Kyankwanzi Woman MP Anne Nankabirwa.
The Sri Lankan delegation at the forum included Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Secretary to External Affairs Ministry Karunatilaka Amunugama, Secretary to Industry & Commerce Anura Siriwardena, and Chairman of EDB Janaka Ratnayake.