November 17, 2015
Wow look at this crowd. Fantastic!
Nice to see everybody!
Good morning everybody and thank you very much to all of you for coming this morning. I think it is pretty clear from the fantastic weather we have outside after about four or five days of rain that this proves something I was already suspecting — I knew the AmCham was pretty well connected around here, but given how they took care of the weather, I now realize these guys are pretty amazingly connected.
Honorable Ministers, your excellencies, honorable guests, members of the diplomatic community, members of the business community, AmCham members, members of the media who are here today, I want to welcome all of you to the opening ceremony for the U.S. Trade Show 2015 and I am very honored and grateful to have you here today. In particular, I would like to thank our Chief Guest, Honorable Minister of Industry and Commerce, Rishad Bathiudeen, for his participation this morning. And I also want to thank my good friend Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Harsha de Silva for coming. It’s a great honor to have both of you here. Thank you very much. I also want to recognize and thank American Chamber of Commerce in Sri Lanka’s President, Mr. Asanka Ratnayake, for the tremendous amount of work that AmCham has put into preparing what is absolutely going to be a fantastic and successful U.S. Trade Show 2015.
As many of you know, I’m still fairly a recent arrival here in Colombo. But after only a few months on the ground, it is clear to me that there is a new and tremendous opportunity for business ties between Sri Lanka and the United States. I believe our two countries can do a tremendous amount together to enhance our economic relationship and expand our bilateral trade. That’s because the people of Sri Lanka have made clear their intent to leave aside the politics of the past in order to build a promising, unified future, and the government of Sri Lanka has responded with plans to adopt policies that will make it easier for businesses to operate in and trade with Sri Lanka, not only for American businesses, but businesses from around the world.
I don’t have to tell you that Sri Lanka enjoys tremendous advantages that American and other companies around the world can take advantage of. First of all as you all know, it sits beside some of the most busy shipping lanes on the entire planet. If you go down to the old Galle Fort and look out from the ramparts, you will see containerized shipping, tankers, freighters from all around the world, they all pass Galle Fort on their way between the straits of Malacca and the straits of Hormuz. I see ships coming to the port of Colombo from right outside my office window. It is clear that Sri Lanka is on the global map.
So Sri Lanka has quite a geographic positioning. It is so close to the markets of South Asia, so close to the markets of the Middle East, so close to the markets of Southeast Asia. I don’t need to tell you any of this, you already know this. It also has Free Trade Agreements with many of the countries in the region, making it an excellent location for assembly, logistics and other commercial endeavors. And, as I have discovered, Sri Lanka is a tremendous place to live and it makes an excellent regional hub and an excellent place to live. These are messages I have already begun to deliver to the American business chambers around the region, throughout the Indo-Pacific region, Southeast Asia, East Asia, South Asia and other places.
But I have an important message as well for Sri Lanka. And that message is that American companies are some of the most dependable business partners you will find anywhere, producing the highest quality products and services in the world with the highest standards of ethics and corporate social responsibility, world class innovation and design, manufacturing techniques that are absolutely state-of-the-art and all done with a sense of responsibility for the environment and for the worker that makes American companies the best possible partners you could possibly have.
By the facts and figures, many of you already know that in 2014, Sri Lanka imported $350 million of products and services from the United States. The United States would like to see this number grow and we would like to Sri Lanka exporting more products and services to the Unites States as well. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sri Lanka has the potential to be, “the fulcrum of a modern and dynamic Indo-Pacific region” with a market much larger in the broader region than that represented by 20 million people of Sri Lanka.
Achieving this vision is not going to be very easy. Representatives of American companies have regularly told me that they want to see more economic policy consistency, a more fiscally stable government and sustained enforcement of transparency policies in Sri Lanka. U.S. capital and business tend to flow to countries that succeed in providing this regulatory and policy stability. I am confident that, going forward, the government of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe and members of this business community here in this room will work together to make the reforms necessary to set Sri Lanka on the path towards long-term sustainable prosperity, and help us grow a stronger bilateral trade between out two countries.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I noted at the beginning, there is new opportunity here. This year, the voters of Sri Lanka have made a choice – twice – to usher in a new way of doing business, a new vision for what can be accomplished, a Sri Lanka that is peaceful, reconciled, prosperous and free, with democracy and human rights for every single one of its citizens, wherever they live, whatever their religion or ethnicity. And today, the United States has a strong partnership with a government here in Colombo that shares our commitment to boosting bilateral trade and investment.
So it gives me great pleasure to be here to help open U.S. Trade Show 2015. This event is a terrific opportunity for the business community here and the public to meet with representatives from approximately 30 American and U.S.-affiliated companies in a single convenient location; and to establish the personal relationships that are crucial to get a good business going. I want to thank the AmCham, I want to thank my ministerial colleagues and friends, I want to thank particularly all of the men and women and the American Embassy across the various sections and agencies for making this event a success and I want to thank all of you for coming today. I am grateful to you for coming today. Please walk around, take a look at the products. I want to thank all the exhibitors and companies for being here today. I want to say how happy I am and excited for the terrific turn-out for this fantastic event. So thank you all very very much.