David Goebbels, head of Asia department at the Luxembourg ministry of foreign affairs, Dirk Van Der Ploeg, Honorary Consul for Sri Lanka in Luxembourg, Jeannot Erpelding, Luxembourg chamber of commerce, Sujeewa Senasinghe, Sri Lanka’s minister for international trade and Rodney Perera, Sri Lankan ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg.
Photo: Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce
On a visit to Luxembourg, Sri Lanka’s minister of international trade, Sujeewa Senasinghe, said his country provides investors with golden opportunities.
Comparisons between Luxembourg and the "teardrop island" of Sri Lanka were abundant during a trade meeting at the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. A delegation from Sri Lanka, led by the country’s minister of international trade, Sujeewa Senasinghe, and its ambassador to Luxembourg and Belgium, Rodney Perera, was welcomed by Jeannot Erpelding, director of international affairs at the Chamber. He kicked off the event with light-hearted illustrations of how the two countries are similar. Both are relatively small but have strong neighbours, both are open to the world and eager to strengthen bilateral relations, Erpelding said.
“A golden opportunity”
Following the end of its civil war in 2009, Sri Lanka--a middle-income country with a population of over 21 million--has moved even more rapidly from a rural-based economy to one geared toward services and manufacturing. Trade agreements are underway with India, China, Malaysia and Singapore, and a number of major automotive brands are even proposing the country as a storage hub for their world shipping.
Senasinghe says the country provides investors with a “golden opportunity”, and he envisions “Sri Lanka as Luxembourg in Asia”, with huge potential. He calls the island an “asset-rich country”, but one which has lagged in technology. Despite this drawback, “Colombo property prices are doubling every three years.” In 2015, it was also ranked the fastest-growing capital in the world.
China has been quick to invest in the teardrop island, notably with the development of the luxurious Colombo Port City and Hambantota, a port on the country’s southern coast, which Sri Lanka handed over to a Chinese company on a 99-year lease.
But it isn’t just the location that is attractive, says Senasinghe. The beaches and wildlife are also part of the sell and, as he says, “the people are infectious”.
A Luxembourg case study
Among the business guests in attendance on Wednesday were Imhotep chairman, Pascal Brunel, and Benoît Digeon, CEO of Asianergy Partners. The two shared their experience of being a Luxembourg-based renewable energies company active in Sri Lanka.
The business partners see the potential of hybrid energy solutions for the country. “There is the will of the government to increase its capacity to produce renewable energy,” Digeon says. In addition to answering calls to tender, the team has also been making direct proposals for innovative, hybrid solutions using wind and photovoltaic energy and storage solutions.
According to Digeon, business has not been without its cultural challenges, however, noting that while in Luxembourg people tend to get straight to the point and have binary questions, in Sri Lanka things tend to take more time, and the tracks may not always be as straight forward. The two are working with Franck Anton, who hails from France but has Sri Lankan ancestry, to help them counter such issues.
“We are coming to Sri Lanka with investment capacity and talking with banks here which have their own due diligence processes,” he says. “It can be difficult to make people understand that there are different needs on both sides of the sea.”
Nevertheless, the team is looking forward to the opportunities offered by the teardrop island. With the economy’s growth of nearly 6% per annum since 2009, Digeon recognises that “infrastructure is necessary with growth.”