Bilateral ties
Nalinda Wijerathna, Sri Lanka’s consul general in Dubai and the northern emirates Image Credit: Supplied

Sri Lanka’s newly appointed consul general in Dubai and the northern emirates, Nalinda Wijerathna highlights how the consulate plans to take the bilateral ties forward

You assumed office last month. What are your focus areas when it comes to strengthening bilateral ties with the UAE?

Sri Lanka and the UAE have been enjoying cordial and friendly bilateral relations since the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of the Sri Lankan Embassy in Abu Dhabi in 1979. During these 40-odd years, we have witnessed a number of milestones in our bilateral relations including the establishment of a fully-fledged embassy in 1983 as well as a consulate office in 1993, which was subsequently upgraded to a consulate general status in 1999. The cordial relations between the two countries, which are based on mutual trust and understanding, have spread in all the spheres including trade, investment, tourism and economic cooperation.

The UAE is the largest export market for Sri Lankan products in the Gulf region, ranking at number seven among Sri Lanka’s export destinations. Being Sri Lanka’s largest import partner in the Gulf, the UAE also ranks at number three among its top import destinations. The total bilateral trade value has now reached to the new heights of $2-billion (Dh7.34-billion) mark, signifying the great trading relationship between the two countries. The contribution of the UAE in Sri Lanka’s foreign direct investment and tourism sectors is also very significant.

The consulate general of Sri Lanka is entrusted with the tasks of providing consular services to Sri Lankan expatriates living in Dubai and the northern emirates, and promoting bilateral trade, tourism, investments and economic relations. It is noted that the UAE, due to its conducive environment for employment, remains one of the most desired employment destinations among Sri Lankans. The consulate general will focus on further strengthening bilateral ties. In particular, promotion of bilateral trade, tourism and investment relations will be prioritised in our action plan in 2020.

Could you share some information on Sri Lanka’s participation at Expo 2020?

Sri Lanka’s participation in Expo 2020 Dubai is organised by the Sri Lanka Export Development Board in collaboration with other government institutions and private stakeholders.

The Sri Lanka pavilion at Expo 2020 will be located under the expo’s sub-theme, Opportunity, and the country will be promoted under the theme Island of Ingenuity. The pavilion will showcase Sri Lanka’s rich portfolio of offerings. We believe that Expo 2020 will be a golden opportunity for Sri Lanka to enhance its image and showcase the nation’s quality offers to the world.

What activities and events are you planning to organise this year to enhance bilateral relations?

Sri Lanka regularly participates in international trade fairs being held in the UAE. Our main export products — such as Ceylon tea, rubber-based products, IT and electronics, paper products and boats and boat buildings —are being promoted through our participation in these trade fairs. The consulate general is actively organising and coordinating participation of Sri Lankan companies in these fairs.

Additionally, discussions are underway with relevant organisations to organise country-specific promotional events in parallel to Sri Lanka’s participation at Expo 2020. The consulate general will also continue to organise and facilitate visits by political authorities, trade delegations and government officials.

Do you have any special plan for the expat community in the UAE for Independence Day?

Sri Lanka is celebrating its 72nd Independence Day today, with an official event at 9am at the consulate general premises. Additionally, the Sri Lanka Cultural Centre — affiliated to the consulate general — will organise an event on February 7 at 4pm on the grounds of Al Wasl Hospital. We cordially invite all Sri Lankans living in the UAE to come and join these celebrations.

Promoting UAE-Sri Lanka bilateral trade and investments

A conversation with Suren Swaminathan, Chairman, Sri Lankan Business Council in Dubai and the northern emirates

How does the Sri Lankan Business Council support trade and economic ties between the island nation and the UAE?

The Sri Lankan Business Council in Dubai and the northern emirates is a member of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), operating with a trade licence from it.

We promote trade of Sri Lankan products in the UAE and vice versa. We do our utmost to promote and connect investors and companies in both the countries with potential partners.

What steps have you undertaken to strengthen trade activities between the two nations?

We work very closely with the Sri Lankan consulate in Dubai and the embassy in Abu Dhabi. We are always part of the discussions on furthering trade ties. We have earlier facilitated the visits of several high-profile business delegations from the UAE to Sri Lanka and are also involved in the decision making with regard to business visits, investments and exchange of information.

What are the key Sri Lankan companies currently operating in the UAE?

Ceylon Tea Bureau has been operating in the UAE for around 40 years. We have many representative offices in the free zones. Some of the key Sri Lankan companies operating in the UAE include Frico International, Expolanka Freight and Al Bogari Holdings.

How do you facilitate participation of Sri Lankan companies across the UAE’s key economic sectors?

We recently hosted a big delegation from Colombo and shared our feedback on investment opportunities in the UAE. However, owing to the recent change in government in Sri Lanka, we are still waiting for the authorities to get back to us on any update.

Fortunately, Sri Lanka and the Ceylon Tea Bureau identified Dubai as a very strategic location for tea marketing in the region, establishing an office almost 40 years ago.

- Suren Swaminathan, Chairman, Sri Lankan Business Council in Dubai and the northern emirates

How are you working to increase the market share of Sri Lankan tea?

Fortunately, Sri Lanka and the Ceylon Tea Bureau identified Dubai as a very strategic location for tea marketing in the region, establishing an office almost 40 years ago.

They have a tea commissioner, appointed to handle tea trade in the Middle East, who is automatically inducted to the board of Sri Lankan Business Council as an ex officio.

Hence, we work very closely with the Tea Bureau in the promotion of Ceylon Tea.

Do you have anything specific outlined for Sri Lankan businesses in the UAE in 2020?

We have plans to organise many events for our members, including the biennial networking meeting which will coincide with the Expo 2020 Dubai.