September 18, 2023
Good morning colleagues!
It is an honor to be here to mark the opening of our bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement Joint Council Meeting – our first in four years. It is especially fitting that we can restart these talks during the 75th anniversary of our bilateral relations. I am glad to share this occasion with such a remarkable cross-section of colleagues from across the U.S. and Sri Lankan interagency.
I view today’s meeting not just as an opportunity for the two sides to discuss areas where we can strengthen our existing partnerships, identify barriers to trade and investment, and work towards expanding our two way commercial pathway to prosperity.
We recognize that Sri Lanka went through an especially challenging time last year during the height of the crisis. I still remember the long fuel queues on every block. Sri Lanka still faces many challenges ahead. But the fact that we are now here to discuss bilateral trade and investment speaks not only to the resilience of the Sri Lankan people, but also to the hard work of Sri Lanka’s dedicated public servants.
Now the challenge looking ahead for Sri Lanka is not just one of survival, but one of growth. How can Sri Lanka not only weather the crisis but also strengthen the regulatory and economic bedrock for enduring and self-sustaining growth where economic governance goes hand in hand with democratic governance?
Your government has responded to this challenge with a proactive approach, launching a series of ongoing initiatives that encompass digitalization, anti-corruption measures, and support for market-driven growth. Through our extensive technical assistance programs, the United States has been a steadfast partner in Sri Lanka’s pursuit of self-sustaining economic growth. Take, for instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market-Oriented Dairy Program, which continues to empower thousands of Sri Lankan dairy farmers with business management know-how and improved access to domestic supply chains. Similarly, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP) has conducted numerous workshops for Sri Lankan government counterparts, including on best procurement practices and project tender management strategies. Meanwhile, USAID’s vast array of technical assistance programs, ranging from climate change and energy to public financial management, address critical challenges ahead. USAID’s support for Sri Lanka’s National Single Window project, for instance, includes developing job descriptions, SOPs, org charts, and other key foundations essential to sustaining the operation of such an initiative. They may not make the daily newspaper headlines, but to me, support like this represents the dedication of the U.S. and Sri Lankan public servants working together to strengthen Sri Lanka’s economic good governance. Today, as I look around the room, the diversity of interagency colleagues from the United States is another testament to our continued commitment to this bilateral partnership.
Meanwhile, I believe U.S. companies and investors represent another answer to your challenge of growth. The United States is your largest export market, representing a pathway for export-oriented growth to take off here. In addition to $270 million in assistance that we provided in the last year, U.S. businesses invested over $230 million in Sri Lanka in 2022. This means more local service sector and R&D jobs for Sri Lankans in areas including information technology and apparel. U.S. direct investment in Sri Lanka has steadily grown over the last ten years, and there will be more and more U.S. businesses interested in bringing quality investment with good returns for Sri Lanka.
One of the factors deterring U.S. investment has been a lack of understanding of the Sri Lankan regulatory requirements. U.S. companies want to invest but often don’t know whom to talk to file paperwork or where to get the right information. Let me assure you, as a fellow public servant, navigating the bureaucratic maze is a challenge in the United States as well. But if Sri Lanka can successfully showcase a streamlined, transparent, and digitized investment climate, it will attract quality investments from the United States that will open previously untapped potential in the Sri Lankan market.
Thank you again – especially to our Sri Lankan hosts – for this opportunity to witness the opening of the TIFA Council. This is a signal of the resurgence and commitment to our bilateral trade and commercial relationship. We’ve come a long way, and much remains to be done. Let’s get to work.