August 29, 2022
Council President de Silva, honored members of the Board, and friends, thank you for inviting me to speak this afternoon. You in this room are not just spectators, you are real advocates for strengthening Sri Lanka’s investment and trade environment and bilateral trade with the United States. We all know that as spectators we love to watch a good match of cricket, but now it’s time to get in the game and each of us do our part.
Sri Lanka is facing one of the most difficult times in its economic history. Disruptions in his chain of critical supplies of fuel and power have hampered business operations in nearly every industry. Every day, in every conversation I have, Sri Lankans tell me that they are worried about the future and the prospects for the next generation. But they are not insurmountable.
Looking around the room, we see many familiar faces who attended the annual meeting of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, such as Mr. Manjula de Silva, Secretary General of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. So I laid out her five steps that she thinks Sri Lanka must take to revive its economy. I won’t go through them all again here, but this council, working closely with the embassy, will help Sri Lanka achieve her two of these important steps. in a perfect location for First, the Council is an important voice advising governments on how to reform the business environment. Second, you are a major driver of growing trade and investment.
Let’s start with the commercial environment and its greatest strength: the people. Sri Lanka must find a way to invest in its workforce. One way is to harness the talent and energy of Sri Lankan women. With women literally at the table and in leadership roles, gender equality is critical to economic growth. Looking across this room, it’s clear that the business needs more women. This was clearly audible when she met Sri Lanka’s female parliamentarians, who are only 12 of the total 225 members of parliament.
We need women to have equal access to funding for small businesses that operate in so many villages and towns across the island. Last week, I joined her 100 female entrepreneurs at an investment training event as part of her three-year State Department-funded project, Empowering Women Through Economic Inclusion. It was so exciting to see so many women, so many great ideas and so many businesses taking off. it gives me hope.
Sri Lanka now has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a more dynamic and resilient economy to modern challenges. To do this successfully, decision makers need to hear from a diverse community of partners, including the business community. They need to understand how new policies, regulations or laws will affect their company, employees and customers.
Let me give you just one example. Sri Lanka can seize the moment to transition to green technologies and renewable energy sources. If the fuel crisis has taught us anything, it is that the time to switch to renewable energy is now! An area that stands to benefit from access to US-based project finance. Clean power is also a priority in the Build Back Better World partnership that President Biden announced last year with his G7 partners.
It is also important to ensure that there are no undue obstacles for foreign investors to seek opportunities in Sri Lanka and bring in the capital the country desperately needs. US foreign direct investment in Sri Lanka has remained stagnant at around $13 million to $17 million annually since 2015. Our business is concerned with consistency, transparency and above all predictability in government decision-making.
Our contribution to Sri Lanka’s prosperity is unique in this regard, as the United States remains Sri Lanka’s largest single-country export market. Sri Lanka can and should increase its exports and investments to the United States. This is an area that my team and I are really excited about. Bilateral trade ties account for about 3% of Sri Lanka’s GDP. By our estimate, Sri Lanka’s exporters to the US directly employ at least 180,000 people here. This is the type of economic partnership that we should all aim to expand. Investing in the US is another opportunity for Sri Lanka’s private sector. Regardless of industry, companies that invest in the United States gain competitive advantage from one of the most open markets on earth. With a GDP of $20 trillion and a population of her 325 million, the United States offers the largest consumer market on the planet. Companies of all sizes benefit from and contribute to a thriving ecosystem for invention and inspiration, helping make American innovation a global enterprise.
This is a defining moment in Sri Lanka’s history and the United States continues to stand by Sri Lanka during these difficult times. In response, we are already providing support that is making a tangible difference in the lives of Sri Lankans. Just this year, we are contributing $120 million to small businesses, $27 million to Sri Lanka’s dairy industry, and $3,000 in new humanitarian, technical and food security assistance to benefit Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable communities. announced over a million dollars. Last Friday, through Save the Children, I announced that I would be providing 320 tons of peas to feed thousands of school children across Sri Lanka. As a mother, I want my children to go to school where they can learn and play freely without worrying about being hungry. This is in addition to all the support we announced in 2021. Her $265 million for Sri Lankan SMEs and the launch of the $19 million USAID Sri Lanka Energy Program. vehicle department. We hope to see more announcements and support in the country in the near future.
The United States will remain a friend and partner to Sri Lanka’s prosperity. I look forward to a common future and success in overcoming the challenges of the present. We welcome the steps taken by Sri Lanka to present herself to the IMF and initiate debt restructuring negotiations. While these will be tough, the IMF represents the best tools, approaches and resources to enable Sri Lanka to overcome this crisis and get back on the road to recovery and growth. , the US supports her government’s decision to involve the IMF. And for negotiations to succeed, all creditors must receive equal and equal treatment without delay. We heard President Wickremesinghe last week called on all creditors to sing from the same hymn sheet, and that includes China.
Social safety nets also need to be addressed for vulnerable communities most affected during these times. Calls from many in the room, civil society, the media, and the private sector, including politicians, for genuine efforts toward both highly intertwined political and economic reforms, are important to sustain. is. That means good governance, clean sourcing, transparency and anti-corruption measures. There is much work to be done and the nation must come together to do this work. Now is the time.
The United States will continue to redouble our efforts to assist Sri Lanka on this path. That means assistance through the IMF, financing small businesses, fertilizer and seeds for farmers, and helping strengthen public financial management systems. We are not on the sidelines, but each of us has a responsibility to ensure that Sri Lanka returns to sustainable economic growth and prosperity for all. Thank you very much.