Ambassador Chung’s Remarks at the Uber Sri Lanka Electric Bicycle Fleet Launch Event

March 16, 2023

Minister Wijesekera, Uber Regional Director Orgill, AmCham board members, and friends.  Good evening.  I am very excited to be here tonight as Uber, a great American company from my home state of California, launches its investment in electric vehicles here in Sri Lanka.  This year is the 75th anniversary of bilateral relations between the United States and Sri Lanka and Uber’s EV initiative is a perfect example of how this relationship is founded on People, Progress, and Partnership.

First, I want to acknowledge all the hard work that the Sri Lankan government has put in to help bring this moment to fruition.  Last week, we were pleased to hear the IMF report that it received adequate financing assurances from all major bilateral creditors, laying the foundation stone for economic recovery.  The IMF board could approve an Extended Funding Facility for Sri Lanka as soon as next week.  Although there is still much more work ahead, if successful, the IMF package will catalyze financing from other creditors, and hopefully impel more investment to set the path to strong, sustainable, and inclusive economic growth.  That’s good news.

Less than a year ago, amid days-long fuel queues clogging the streets, it was difficult to visualize the light at the end of the tunnel.  I commend the Minister of Energy’s perseverance and commitment to making the tough but necessary reforms for better energy security, and for companies like Uber to heed the call to adapt to these challenges.

Sri Lanka’s economy benefits immensely from investment by U.S. companies.  Active in more than 70 countries, Uber has been a leading force in innovation and sustainability.  Uber’s mission statement says it is constantly reimagining how we can all move better.  And in that, it has committed to carbon neutrality globally by 2040.  In Sri Lanka, Uber has contributed 81 billion rupees to the country’s economy, provided free PPE and rides to healthcare workers during the COVID pandemic, donated $200,000 to transport food and medicine in partnership with the Sri Lanka Red Cross, and sponsored an entrepreneurship challenge with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, among many other initiatives.

I am a strong believer that investments in electric vehicles and women’s economic empowerment are both critical to spurring even more growth.  It is true all over the world, but especially in Sri Lanka.  This is why we launched the $19 million USAID Sri Lanka Energy Program to help transform Sri Lanka’s power sector into a sustainable and reliable market-driven system.  Minister Wijesekera, your support and collaboration with this program has been vital.

The economic benefits of this type of investment are significant.  First and foremost, it will create new jobs and boost economic growth.  The global electric vehicle market is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years, potentially reaching 30 percent of all vehicles sold globally by 2030.  This means that there will be significant opportunities for Sri Lanka to participate in this market and create new jobs in the process.

In addition, investment in electric vehicles can lead to significant cost savings for Sri Lanka.  Electric vehicles are cheaper to operate and maintain than traditional gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles, which means that they can help reduce Sri Lanka’s import bill and free up resources for other priority areas.

Electric vehicles are not only good for boosting the economy, but they are great for the environment as well.  Currently, Sri Lanka faces challenges in terms of air pollution and traffic congestion, especially in its urban areas.  Electric vehicles offer a clean and sustainable solution to these challenges.

Through a grant under USAID’s Sri Lanka Energy Program, we are supporting the development of E-two-wheeler and E-three-wheeler public charging stations in Colombo.  Accessible charging infrastructure serves as the foundation for expanding Sri Lanka’s electronic vehicle market.  We look forward to working closely with Uber and its partners in this inaugural effort.

USAID is also engaging with key government authorities and sector stakeholders to develop safety standards and usage guidelines for charging stations, which will ensure safety and reliability in electric vehicle stations across the country.

I also mentioned that women’s empowerment is critical to Sri Lanka’s recovery.  It is a priority for the United States in our partnership with Sri Lanka and an especially important discussion to have all year long, not just now during Women’s History Month.  Guaranteeing equal opportunities to women in the work force is not only a social justice issue, but also an economic one.  It’s great to see Thanshika and Athira leading the charge as female executives for Uber in Sri Lanka!

Through the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation – better known as DFC – we have invested in the Sri Lankan private sector, with a focus on women-owned small and medium-sized businesses.  We also support training programs for women and youth entrepreneurship.

In closing, let me just say one more time, thank you Uber, for demonstrating how U.S. investment can offer significant economic benefits and the prospect of a brighter future for the Sri Lankan people.  With new jobs, lower import bills, and more inclusive and sustainable economic growth, Uber is demonstrating exactly what we mean when we talk about People, Progress, and Partnership.  And beyond that, well, maybe you can help me catch a ride home on one of your new e-bikes.  Thank you very much.