Remarks by Chargé d’affaires Robert Hilton at American Chamber of Commerce Annual General Meeting

[As prepared]

Thank you Ravin for the warm introduction.  It’s a pleasure to join you once again for the Annual General Meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in Sri Lanka.

I would like to thank the AmCham Board of Directors for hosting this event and Radika and her staff for all the hard work that went into organizing it.  I would further like to thank Radika for all of the extraordinary work she has performed for the AmCham through the years.  We will all miss you.  Our loss will be Hayley’s gain, and I am sure you will do extraordinarily well there, as well.

I would also like to acknowledge all of you, the American business community and those of you who do business with American companies.  The AmCham is nothing without you.  The Ambassador and I are both heartened by the increased number of American companies represented on the AmCham board.  I believe that American companies are more engaged because the AmCham is becoming more effective, and that increased engagement in turn only improves and increases what the AmCham can achieve.

We believe that a successful American Chamber of Commerce has three key characteristics:

  1. It is an effective advocate. It speaks with collective authority on issues important to its members.
  2. It is diverse. It has representation from all sectors of society and the economy.
  3. It is involved. It promotes valorous corporate citizenship.

An effective AmCham also stands for American values, including free and fair trade, ethical business and employment practices, transparency and the free flow of information.

This is an auspicious time for American firms to do business in Sri Lanka, where these is a renewed commitment to these and other fundamental values.  American firms are eager to do business here and the U.S. Government is engaged in ways to increase bilateral trade between our countries.

Two weeks ago, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Mark Linscott visited Colombo and encouraged the Government of Sri Lanka to implement policies that will increase trade and improve the business climate.  Mark emphasized that to attract more trade and investment opportunities, Sri Lanka will have to institute predictable, sound, and transparent economic policies, including taking steps to remove corruption and favoritism from government tenders.  He also discussed removing some of Sri Lanka’s tariffs that overly burden domestic and foreign businesses.  He urged the promotion of intellectual property rights and encouraged Sri Lanka to increase its own competitiveness by joining the WTO Information Technology Agreement, or ITA.  At the same time, Mark also addressed micro-level issues.  He brought up the current one-year limit on residence visas as a barrier to foreign investment.  We were told the Government of Sri Lanka will be lengthening the duration of residency visas to three years, which I am sure will be welcome news to many of you.

When the Government of Sri Lanka takes such positive steps– after joint lobbying from the AmCham and the U.S. Government — U.S. firms will naturally migrate to Sri Lanka.  As they do, Sri Lanka will be able to import more high quality U.S. goods.  Currently, Sri Lanka exports $2.8 billion of goods to the United States annually while Sri Lanka only imports $269 million from the United States.  For the benefit of both our countries, this enormous deficit needs to be closed.  The Embassy will continue our engagement with USTR, the Government of Sri Lanka and the business community to address this issue.

Our work, our shared work, is challenging, but we are all contributing toward a Sri Lanka that is more inclusive, more just, more peaceful, and more prosperous.  And, through our hard work, the United States and Sri Lanka will become closer friends and allies and will do much more business together.  We will all benefit.  Thank you for all you do to enhance the friendship and partnership between the United States and Sri Lanka.