Ambassador Julie J. Chung’s Remarks at the AmCham Ball

May 19, 2023

AmCham President Lakshan Madurasinghe, distinguished guests, and friends, what an honor it is to be here today to commemorate two important anniversaries:  the establishment of the American Chamber of Commerce in Sri Lanka and the establishment of bilateral relations between the United States and Sri Lanka.

This year marks the 30th year of AmCham’s operations in Sri Lanka and with just one look around this room you can see how successful the organization has become.  I have had the pleasure to meet and tour many of your companies:  Revlon, Dell, FedEx – Hayleys, Sysco, and helped launch Uber’s electric delivery bikes.  I’ve also joined your corporate social responsibility projects, like the beach cleanup we did together Lakshan, organized by Coca-Cola and partners.

You in this room are not only spectators but real advocates for strengthening the investment and trade climate, and democratic institutions in Sri Lanka to make this country better. I applaud your leadership in entrepreneurship, transparency, good business governance, and strong corporate social responsibility.

We are also commemorating 75 years of bilateral relations between the United States and Sri Lanka.  As we celebrate these milestones, I would like to reflect on the positive impact that the United States and AmCham have had on the economy and communities of Sri Lanka.

The United States and Sri Lanka have a long and rich history of bilateral relations, founded on the principles of People, Progress, and Partnership.  Over the span of more than seven decades, our two nations have worked together on a wide range of issues, from economic development to national security, and we have built strong bonds of friendship and mutual respect.  AmCham has played an important role, too, in fostering and strengthening our bilateral relations by promoting trade and investment between the two countries.

Since its founding 30 years ago, AmCham has been dedicated to promoting American private sector investment in Sri Lanka and advancing the economic development of the country.  Whether through initiatives like Investment Spotlight or Resilient Sri Lanka, the Chamber has helped to create opportunities for American businesses to come to and prosper in Sri Lanka, while also supporting the growth and development of local businesses.

One of the primary ways that AmCham has contributed to the economic development of the country is through its advocacy efforts. You and your companies partnered with other chambers in calling on the government to go to the IMF.  The Chamber has worked tirelessly to promote policies that create a favorable business environment and attract investment to Sri Lanka.  It has also advocated for regulatory reforms and improvements to the overall business climate in the country, which the government is now beginning to make.

The job isn’t over yet.  More needs to be done to improve good governance and anti-corruption efforts, but these improvements will help to create new opportunities for both Sri Lankan and American businesses, help the country recover from this crisis, and boost economic growth.

In addition to its advocacy efforts, AmCham has also been actively involved in promoting entrepreneurship, innovation, and good stewardship of the country.  These also happen to be the very things that the U.S. Embassy has been promoting as well.

In fact, our investments in entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka date back to the 1970s, when USAID began providing training to rural women in agribusiness.  Since then, we have continued to provide our steadfast support to Sri Lanka’s aspiring entrepreneurs.  We provided financial support to our colleagues at Hatch Works to launch AccelerateHer, which is the first female-focused business accelerator in Sri Lanka.  Through our American Corners, we provide English language training to young female entrepreneurs.

Through the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, we have provided hundreds of millions of dollars in financing specifically to expand access for micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises. Through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we also partnered with an NGO in a $27.5 million project that helps Sri Lankan dairy farmers through technical training and financial access – so far, the farmers we helped increased their milk production by over 50 percent!

The United States, and AmCham, believes that a vibrant and prosperous economy is built by including and drawing on the diverse skills of all members of society, we have done our part to help empower the aspiring businesswomen of Sri Lanka.  Guaranteeing equal opportunities to women in the work force is not only a social justice issue, but also an economic one.  Research has shown that when more women participate in the labor force, economies grow faster and are more resilient to shocks.  This is because women bring new perspectives and skills to the table that lead to innovation and new opportunities.

I have traveled all throughout Sri Lanka, meeting such inspiring women who work hard to overcome the challenges to maintain and improve their livelihoods.  Whether its young women starting a tech company at Yarl IT Hub (in Jaffna) or mothers working rice paddies in the Northcentral Province to feed their families and fellow Sri Lankans.

Despite the current challenges and brain drain concerns, many are determined to stay here and help build up their country.  They have not given up.  It’s in this spirit of resilience and optimism that I am so grateful to AmCham for its efforts to ensure economic opportunities exist for all Sri Lankans.

As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of bilateral relations between the United States and Sri Lanka, and the 30th anniversary of the AmCham, we should take pride in the positive impact that we have had on Sri Lanka, the economy, and its people.  But there is still much work ahead of us as the country finds its way out of this crisis.

So, congratulations AmCham on your 30th birthday – you look great! – and I look forward to growing our relationship in the next 30 years, and beyond that, the next 300!  Our joint efforts to continue strengthening the partnership between the United States and Sri Lanka will be important so that our countries can thrive together.

Thanks to each and every one of you in this room for taking part in this partnership. Thank you.