The Council for Business with Britain (CBB) held its 14th Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Wednesday, 9th July, 2014 at the Westminster House, Colombo 07. His Excellency John Rankin – British High Commissioner graced the occasion.

The incoming Chairman, Mr. Shirendra Lawrence, thanked the Executive Committee and general membership for the support extended to execute a series of successful events during the past year and for placing confidence in him by his appointment to office for 2014/15. He further stressed the importance of up keeping the business relationship with the UK, it being the second largest export destination for Sri Lanka (with record exports in 2013), and also the second largest number of tourist arrivals. Mr. Lawrence spent time speaking about the CBB’s initiative to enhance the competency of English Language Teachers in rural areas of Sri Lanka, and highlighted events and activities lined up in the next few months to raise funds to support this initiative.

Addressing the gathering, His Excellency John Rankin, British High Commissioner said, “I am very pleased to welcome you to Westminster house this evening. A key goal of the British High Commission is to promote trade and investment between Sri Lanka and the UK. The CBB is an important partner in helping us to achieve that goal, and we value our close working relationship with you.

The past year has been a very busy one for me and my Trade and Investment team. A particular highlight was the Commonwealth Business Council during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting here in Colombo last November, where the UK had the largest delegation with over 50 UK organizations and 80 delegates in attendance.

That should not come as a surprise, because Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom not only have a strong historical relationship, but also a strong modern relationship, including in the business field:

  • - Over 100 companies in Sri Lanka with a UK affiliation currently operate here successfully

  • - The UK remains a top 5 investor in Sri Lanka

  • - In the other direction, the UK is by far Sri Lanka’s largest export market within the European Union. In 2013, UK imports from Sri Lanka amounted to £907 million – an increase of 13% from 2012.

  • - And 2013 was a record year for UK companies in Sri Lanka, with business wins of over US$ 3 Billion.

All of that is testament to the good economic growth in Sri Lanka and the business opportunities available here. The economic news from the UK is also positive:

  • - We are now the fastest growing major advanced economy in the world, and the IMF has noted that our economy ‘has rebounded strongly’. Our current account deficit has narrowed and the unemployment rate continues to fall. UK manufacturing, services and construction surveys in the past week all pointed towards good growth, supporting the pound sterling to a 6 year high.

  • - There is no western country that is more open to inward investment in the world. That’s why we have got China investing in civil nuclear power in the UK. And why London is now the Western hub of offshore Renminbi trading. And why in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, the UK is by far the highest ranking major EU economy.

  • - And in the last budget our Chancellor doubled the amount of lending available to British exporters, and cut the interest rates we charge on those loans by a third. We now have the most competitive export finance package in Europe.

What does this mean in terms of sectors for the UK/Sri Lanka business relationship? The answer is that the relationship covers almost every sector, but let me mention three by way of illustration:

First, the apparel sector. M&S, Next, Tesco and George all have their own sourcing offices in Sri Lanka and those companies continue to praise the high quality of what is produced here, in good labour conditions.

Secondly, the financial services sector. Both HSBC and Standard Chartered continue to play a key role in supporting British companies coming to Sri Lanka, and in supporting Sri Lankan companies in their international business. The London Stock Exchange Group also continues to play its part, both through its presence here with Millennium IT and through its work with the Sri Lankan market in London.

Thirdly, education- which is a sector broader than business, but in which business rightly takes a keen interest from a skills perspective. The thirst in Sri Lanka for UK qualifications remains as strong as ever, and our colleagues in the British Council play a key role in providing access to these qualifications. In addition, 28 UK Universities now offer their programmes and degrees here in conjunction with local education providers. We look forward to the first direct UK university campus in South Asia being established in Sri Lanka next year.

My strong hope is that this successful trade and Investment relationship will continue. We welcome the good growth in the Sri Lankan economy and the government’s efforts to attract further foreign direct investment. In that context we continue to urge the establishment of a ‘One Stop Shop’ for investors together with increased transparency, more open tendering, a reduction in red tape, and respect for the rule of law. In short, good governance. We also hope that the Government will explore the potential for Public Private Partnerships as a model for the next stage of infrastructure and wider development in Sri Lanka.

And we will continue to encourage the government to address issues of accountability arising from the end of Sri Lanka’s long conflict, to take meaningful steps towards reconciliation and to respect human rights. As our Prime Minister David Cameron made clear last November, we believe that Sri Lanka is a country of enormous potential, and that it is by addressing these issues that this full potential can be achieved.

I thank you, Mr Chairman, and the outgoing committee members for all your work, and look forward to the continued close partnership between the High Commission and my UK Trade and Investment team, and all of you in the CBB, in the year ahead’

Mr. Shirendra Lawrence, Managing Director, MAS Active (Pvt.) Ltd, was elected as the Chairman of the Council for the year 2014/2015.

  • • Ms. Tania Polonnowita Wettimuny, Managing Director, Hellmann Worldwide logistics (Pvt) Ltd was elected as the Vice Chairman of the Council. Meanwhile, Mr. Mohammed Ziauddin, Managing Director, Norfolk Foods (Pvt.) Ltd and Mr. Sarath Ganegoda, Group Director Hayleys PLC were elected as the Hony. Secretary and Hony. Treasurer, respectively.

The following were appointed as Committee Members for the year 2014/2015:

  • • Mr. Anil Wijesinghe, Chairman/Managing Director, AWS Institute of Education (Immediate Past Chairman, CBB)
  • • Mr. Romesh David, President, Transportation John Keells Holdings PLC
  • • Mr. Felicio Ferraz, Chief Executive Officer , Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC
  • • Mr. Patrick Gallagher, CEO, HSBC Sri Lanka and Maldives
  • • Mr. Christian Johansen, Finlays Colombo PLC

The following were invited to attend Committee Meetings for the year 2013/2014:

  • • Mr. Gary Leslie, Head of UK Trade and Investment, British High Commission, Colombo
  • • Keith Davies,Director, British Council, Sri Lanka
  • • Mr. Sunil Wijesinghe, President, National Chamber of Commerce

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce provides Secretarial services to the Council for Business with Britain.

The CBB has a diverse membership of over 148 companies, making it one of Colombo’s most prestigious networking business associations. The Council organizes a series of events throughout the year for the benefit of its members, ranging from luncheon meetings with guests speakers on topical interest to sporting and social activities.

CBB’s CSR initiative, the English Language Teaching (ELT) Project, now in its 9th year and run on their behalf by the British Council in association with the National Institute of Education and the Ministry of Education. Aimed at improving the English language skills of pupils in rural schools, the programme concentrates on building the capacity of English language teachers so they can deliver lessons more effectively. Another dimension to this programme is that CBB members also have the opportunity to sponsor individual teachers in an area of their choice and share in that individual’s teaching progress. Discussions are in progress to expand the project further to provide a wider reach to schools and children than at the present time.