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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 113

Challenges Ahead of New Chairman of the EDB

By T.K.Premadasa

It is learnt through media that Mr. Bandula Egodage has been appointed as the new Chairman and Chief Executive of Sri Lanka Export Development Board, the apex institution on development and promotion of exports in Sri Lanka. With heartiest congratulations on his appointment to this highly responsible post, I consider it is important to emphasize the huge challenges that will emerge ahead in the export trade perceptible by the continuous backdrop of exports. The experience of Mr Bandula Egodage on development of business in private sector will help strengthen export development plans more constructively.

With the open economy or market oriented economy introduced in the latter part of 1970, the export industry played a major role to enrich the economy based on export oriented economy. Sri Lanka Export Development Board was established in 1979 empowered with wide powers on institutional framework to promote and develop export trade at the highest standard in the best interest of the nation. The Chairman of EDB who is also the Chief Executive plays the major role in recognizing with prestigious rank in the society.

It would be appropriate to quote Mr Lalith Athulathmudali’s speech at the Presentation of Export Development Board Bill in parliament in 1979 in reply to the question raised by the opposition regarding the Chairman of EDB. Mr Athulathmudali said “Chairman is Mr. Victor Santhiyapille , the Secretary General of UNCTAD – GATT ITC – International Trade Centre – with world wide experience on this subject. I thought he was the best man to be influenced for his contribution to the benefit of the Motherland” This proves how important the post of Chairman of EDB is?

As targeted by the founders, EDB achieved the apex of its glory within a short period of time since its inception with a dedicated performance of professional service by a qualified staff during those days in building close relationship with the export community. Hence, a formidable duty casts upon the new Chairman with his competent skills and experience to rejuvenate EDB back to its glorious status shined in early days.

EDB is a special institution established by a very powerful Act. The functions that should be carried out by the officials are stipulated in the Act. The notable feature of EDB was the structure of difference between the government and other institutions. An Export Development Council of Ministers was formed under the Chairmanship of the President comprising the Ministers in charge of relative areas in export production. The objective of the Council was to advise EDB with directives for prompt execution of the decisions taken by the Export Development Council of Ministers. Expenditure on national development is funded by the Export Development Fund which was opened under this Act for the purpose.

As the key Trade Promotion Office, the private sector has a significant role to play in the TPOs under the export oriented economy as highlighted by the writer in his article appeared in media on “Role of Private Sector in TPOs”. The general public is waiting to see the contribution made by the private sector under the new leadership of the EDB who represent private sector towards national development.

The Chairman of the EDB will be confronted with many challenges on account of the range of new changes taking place in the local and global market. Apparently there has been a continuous decline of exports in the recent past affecting the national economy. Sri Lanka Export Development Board has planned an export target to the value of US $15 Billion by the year 2015 under its strategic plan. . In order to achieve this target an annual export growth rate of 16% should be maintained by Sri Lanka from 2013. The explanation for decline of exports was partly due to reasons beyond control or the international financial crises. Particularly the crises emerged in 2009 and 2010 and later the volume of exports gradually surged during the last few years. As the writer expressed in his recent article on “Whither Exports” the strategic plan of EDB failed to reveal the strategies but only displayed the promotional tools as strategies that Sri Lanka followed during the last so many years. Hence, a responsible task casts upon the new chairman to introduce an alternative progressive plan to implement the real strategies with wisdom to brave future challenges and rebuild the image of the EDB.

It seems vitally important to consider the benefits expected upon investment on implementation of EDB programs.

Sri Lanka Expo 2012, recognized as the greatest event highlighted by the EDB, recorded a participation of 1000 buyers last year. But in terms of Expo web site the total value of confirmed orders was US$ 66,000 or Rs 9 million a considerable declining result. Despite the high cost of hosting an Expo Exhibition, it is the consensus that the Expo Exhibition ranks high in value as a Solo Exhibition if it is organized with participation of true buyers who honestly contain the interest in purchasing our quality products. The historical success of the first two previous Expo Exhibitions captured the attraction of the business community who still reminisces with high regard. It would be more meaningful to focus on national importance than building personal image in organizing these events. An enormous responsibility lies on the new Head of the EDB to make the exhibition a magnificent success with professionally qualified academics encouraged by the support of the business community in organizing the event in future.

Another significant factor is the attraction of the exporters by the influence of the EDB as the only leading TPO in Sri Lanka. Apparently, most of the leading exporters are inclined towards other institutions in their business activities. The reason behind this factor is the replication of most of the promotional tools introduced by EDB, by other institutions implicitly with special preference to the needs of the exporter. Hence, it behooves the EDB with greater responsibility in this instance to engineer new strategies for development of export trade. Given high priority to export development by the government, it is the onus of the EDB to utilize government assistance in order to make its development efforts a great success. The initiative taken for portal system is appreciated with new technology added on to it. It is advisable if EDB takes essential steps to embolden the exporters to space marketing in a bid to promote production without physical meetings.

It is proposed to the new Chairman Mr. Bandula Egodage to convene an urgent meeting of the National Advisory Committee to discuss what moves should be adopted to rebuild stronger mutual relationship between EDB and the Business Community as prevailed in the past.

The President has pledged the fullest support of the government by his budget speech every year with high priority to development of export trade. This may be the best suitable time to call for a meeting of Development Council of Ministers with President as the President of the Council Ministers of Export Development together with all the exporters. The business community will use this platform to address their important issues to the Council for a concerted relief on development of export production. Such a Forum would be able to bring positive solution to the poignant issues placed on the table.

The price hike in electricity and other infrastructure in producing areas together with concessions from overseas market to counter the effects of GSP + facility would be significant issues to be discussed. It will be a meaningful approach to consider new strategic attempts of the EDB on develop proper branding Strategy , KPO/BPO, maximum utilization of Free trade agreements, develop relationship with other TPO’s in organizing promotional projects and seek for possibility of reopening our own Trade Centers in overseas as well.

Restructure of EDB, an urgent necessity argued during the past decade, became a reality very recently. The intention of restructuring the institution was not meant for personal benefit but on national objective to brave the new challenges. Hence it is the duty of the new Chairman to study the views and suggestions of all individuals and groups who are willing to share their contribution to development of export trade. It is a proven fact that politically gifted bureaucracy at the top with lack knowledge of export development is liable to thwart the long term development structure by their narrow decisions. It would be wise if the Chairman respects the views of the general staff and general public as well in addition to the Management in his effort to rebuilding the image of the EDB.

In recognition of the vast experience of the New Chairman of EDB in private sector, the Sri Lankan business community strongly believes that he would prove his competence in guiding EDB to prosperity winning the influence of exporters in the interest of national development.

Sri Lanka Export Development Board has a pivotal role to be played towards the social and economic development of Sri Lanka. It was a questionable issue in the last few years whether their contribution to island wide development of export was professional. It would be advisable if constructive changes are implemented in related areas in order to compete with new challenges ahead from the international market. New Chairman of EDB will be blessed by the business community, EDB staff and the entire nation with strength and courage to take all necessary measures to stimulate the performance of skills of the EDB as it counts a cardinal role of his responsibility with innovative plan to increase the volume of exports in a bid to strengthen the economy under the massive development structure launched by the government under Mahinda Chinthanya .

- Asian Tribune -

Challenges Ahead of   New Chairman of the EDB
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