TBY talks to Hon. Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, on exports to Oman, promoting the maritime sector, and opportunities for the Oman private sector in Sri Lanka.

Hon. Mangala Samaraweera
On January 12, 2015, Hon. Mangala Samaraweera was sworn in as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, a position he previously held between 2005 and 2007. Minister Samaraweera served under three Presidents of Sri Lanka, holding important responsibilities and portfolios, in the course of working 27 continuous years in the Parliament. Working as a campaign manager and spokesperson for successful presidential candidates, the Foreign Minister is successfully steering Sri Lanka’s current efforts in achieving national reconciliation. Minister Samaraweera concurrently holds the Chairmanship of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies and the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute, which are institutions affiliated to the Foreign Ministry.

Where do you see the biggest potential for deepening investment and trade ties between Sri Lanka and Oman?

Sri Lanka has had a negative trade balance over the period from 2011 to 2015, with a negative average growth of 4.25%. However, imports from Oman show an average positive growth of 1.85% during the same period. More than 90% out of the total imports to Sri Lanka from Oman consist of mineral fuels and oils. Sri Lanka's main export products to Oman in 2015 were panels, consoles, desks, cabinets, and other bases for electronic goods or the distribution of electricity. Other items included desiccated coconuts, MDF boards, rubberized coir pads, coconut milk power, fruits, vegetables, and tea. The main imported products from Oman were petroleum oils, mineral fuels, polymers, propylene, aluminum products, frozen fish, iron, and steel. Notably, the top-20 export product sectors of Sri Lanka are not performing well in the Omani market. Most of these products are exported either in small values or not exported to Oman at all. Therefore, it is vital at this juncture to look into the possibilities of utilizing the Omani market for Sri Lankan products. In terms of investment, the potential sectors for FDI for Sri Lanka include tourism and leisure, agriculture, export manufacturing, export services, apparels, knowledge, utilities, and education. At present, there are four projects in commercial operation in Sri Lanka in collaboration with Oman, totaling an investment of USD1.5 million. In addition, three projects are in the pipeline and promise an investment of USD0.5 million.The current target sectors to attract projects from Oman are in agriculture and fisheries, infrastructure, real estate development, tourism and leisure.

What are the prospects for the two countries to collaborate in promoting growth in the maritime sector of the Indian Ocean?

Sri Lanka's location at the heart of the Indian Ocean straddling western and Eastern Asia has made us beneficiaries of interregional trade for centuries. The strategic importance of Sri Lanka as a regional hub in the realm of global commercial activity is widely acknowledged. The Indian Ocean is a vast source of maritime economic resources as well as a maritime trading corridor, through which nearly two thirds of the world's oil is transported. Thus, the protection of the Indian Ocean is crucial for the food and national security of many nations. We are aware that under the visionary leadership of His Majesty Sultan Qaboon Bin Said Al Said the government of Oman is committed to promoting the maritime sector through its economic diversification plan. As members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), both Sri Lanka and Oman are working closely in the areas of maritime safety, security, and fisheries management. Most recently, we welcomed the arrival of the Royal Omani Navy ship Khassab on a goodwill visit at the Colombo Port in July 2016. The participation of Omani defense officials in the annual defense seminar organized by the Ministry of Defense and the Galle Dialogue organized by the Sri Lanka Navy is another example. We look forward to further strengthening our cooperation with the Omani authorities to ensure a safe sea routes in the region and countering issues such as human smuggling, piracy, and drug trafficking.

What is your outlook for future cooperation efforts between Oman and Sri Lanka?

The present government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, which came into power in 2015, is committed to creating a more business-friendly environment by ensuring good governance in all spheres. International responses to our initiatives have been very encouraging. I understand many Omani businessmen are interested in investing in real estate, agriculture, and tourism projects. There will also be more opportunities for the Omani private sector in Hanbanthota harbor, as the Ports Authority has announced new development initiatives. I wish to encourage more visits and interactions between the business communities of the two countries. There are more opportunities for joint ventures between the private sectors of the two countries. Sri Lanka looks forward to discussing future cooperation between the two countries during the second bilateral consultations meeting scheduled to be held in Colombo. The government of Sri Lanka is keen to increase future cooperation in the fields of training, fisheries, agriculture, tourism, and investment.