Monday, October 19, 2009

Sri Lanka post-war re-construction draws US firms

American companies are keen to invest in Sri Lanka with the end of the ethnic war to help rebuild the economy and contribute to national reconciliation, government officials from both countries said.

Export Development and International Trade Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris said some of America’s biggest companies had sent representatives to visit the island and scout for investment opportunities this week.

These include General Electric, Coca Cola, Ford Motors, Marriot, Hilton, and Caterpillar.

"They came here because of the confidence they have; the investment climate is now suitable," Peiris said at the end of talks in Colombo on the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) between the two countries.

The talks are aimed at improving economic cooperation between the two trading partners.

"The US government is giving its fullest support to strengthen the economy, especially in employment generation and to increase earnings," Peiris told a news conference.

"Not only the US government, but the biggest American companies came here and showed interest in making big investments here."

The US business delegation also travelled to Trincomalee in the east where they got a first hand impression of the development taking place now the conflict is over, Peiris said.

"During the last 15 years whatever we tried to do, whether in tourism or investment, there was a point beyond which we could not proceed because of terrorism," Peiris said.

Now, he said, the investment climate has changed with the end of the war and the "vigorous involvement" of the US private sector was expected.

Michael Delaney, assistant US Trade Representative for South Asia, said the US government is particularly interested in promoting private sector- pubic partnerships.

American investments were "the best thing we could do to contribute to economic reconstruction and national reconciliation," Delaney told the news conference.

"We had over 40 US companies including several Fortune 500 companies that came to Sri Lanka. We think there’s tremendous upside potential now that the war is behind you.

"We think the economic boost from the end of the war is much greater than commonly believed."

US firms aim to focus on employment generation especially in areas affected by the war, Delaney said.

Government forces defeated the Tamil Tiger separatists in May, ending 30 years of war.

Among the major areas of co-operation between Sri Lank and the US discussed at the talks was the packaging industry.

"We’re trying to revive agriculture, particularly in parts of the country affected by war," Peiris said.

"Investments by American firms will "enable us to earn very much more foreign exchange and equally importantly it will result in employment generation."

Peiris said the government aims to resettle thousands of people displaced by the war.

"To live with dignity in their natural habitat means they must have stable levels of income."

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