Sri Lankan ambassador
Udaya Indrarathna Image Credit: Supplied

How would you sum up the current relations between Sri Lanka and the UAE?

Diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and the UAE were established in July 1979 with the opening of the Sri Lankan embassy in Abu Dhabi. Since then, bilateral relations between two countries have significantly enhanced over the decades with the exchange of high-level visits.

The Sri Lankan consulate was established in Dubai in 1993; and it was subsequently elevated to a consulate general. The UAE opened an embassy in Colombo in 1999.

The year 2019 was a landmark one for both countries, marking the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UAE and Sri Lanka.

In view of fortifying bilateral relations through legal instruments, both countries have entered into several agreements as well as several Memorandum of Understandings in various fields – both bilateral and multilateral areas. Both countries maintain friendly relations with mutual understanding in various multilateral forums, including IORA, IRENA, UNSC, UNHRC, and other UN sub-organs.

Can you provide up-to-date figures of exports and imports between the two nations?

The UAE is the eighth export destination for Sri Lanka. Total export value from Sri Lanka to the UAE was $345.82 million (Dh1.27 billion) in 2022 and total imports from the UAE to Sri Lanka for the same period were $950.36 million. The UAE is the third import origin for Sri Lanka in 2022.

Sri Lanka is currently focusing on diversifying its export basket to the UAE, with a special focus on exporting eco-friendly food items and value added items to cater to the evolving international markets.

What are the major products that are being traded between Sri Lanka and the UAE?

Sri Lanka’s main export products to the UAE in 2022 were tea in bulk, petroleum, tea packets, garments, gems, coconut and desiccated coconut, melons, papayas, and fresh nuts.

Sri Lanka’s main imports from the UAE in 2022 were petroleum, standard wire of aluminium, copper and iron, mineral products, products of base metal, plastics, fertilisers, diamond, petroleum products, and petroleum gases.

How well are Sri Lankan companies performing in the UAE?

We are committed to increase Sri Lanka’s fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) exports to the UAE and widen its scope in the international market. Currently, companies operating in the IT sector in the UAE are doing well, with many Sri Lankans working in this sector. Sri Lankan companies that are into commercial printing and packaging, aircraft maintenance and construction are also doing well. Sri Lanka is also looking to expand its trade potential with the UAE through the signing of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).

What initiatives have you taken to promote the tourism potential of Sri Lanka in the UAE?

Tourism is one of the most important economic components of Sri Lanka. After the deadly collapse of the tourism industry in Sri Lanka during Covid-19, the industry is now showing a green signal. Last year, total tourist arrivals to the country was 1,400,000 which is a significant increase over the past year.

Identifying the UAE as the potential market, Sri Lanka has taken several initiatives recently to increase the number of tourists from the UAE. The conclusion of the negotiations on the air service agreement between the two governments in September, and signing of the agreement between the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau and Emirates during the last Arabian Travel Market exhibition, were among the major policy initiatives.

The launch of Fits Air for the Colombo-Dubai sector and Air Arabia for the Colombo-Abu Dhabi sector have been vital in increasing the number of tourists from the UAE to Colombo.

Sri Lanka Tourism also participates every year at the Arabian Travel Market with a large number of travel agents and hotel chains. Meanwhile, the embassy in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, has concluded a vast social media campaign in the UAE to create more awareness on Sri Lankan tourism.

How many Sri Lankan expatriates are currently living in the UAE?

The UAE has become the second home for Sri Lankan expatriates and according to available statistics, there are around 340,000 Sri Lankans residing in the UAE. Many skilled professionals from Sri Lanka hold senior positions in engineering, banking, insurance, hospitality, culinary, architecture, and quantity surveying sectors. Additionally, the country sends a considerable number of semi-skilled employees to the UAE.

Instead of sending unskilled employees, Sri Lanka is now focusing on supplying a skilled-professional labour force to the UAE and bilateral discussions are being held by both countries to fulfil this task.

We are always grateful to the UAE, its leaders and people for taking care of the well-being of Sri Lankans.

Are Sri Lanka and the UAE currently working on any joint initiatives?

Our goal is to position Sri Lanka as an investor-friendly country and attract sustainable foreign direct investments. To achieve this, Sri Lanka is now looking to enter into new joint initiatives with the UAE and several new activities are in the pipeline.

After several years of preparation, both nations are now about to sign the Investment Promotion and Reciprocal Protection agreement. We strongly believe that entering into this agreement will create new avenues to attract more investors from the UAE to Sri Lanka.

The MoU between the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka and the Federation of the UAE’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry is about to conclude, and this will help enhance business opportunities between Sri Lanka and the UAE. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka Business Council in Dubai has added significant value to our bilateral trade.

With a focus on enhancing trade and business between both nations, the embassy, in collaboration with the UAE authorities, is in the process of forming a UAE–Sri Lanka Business Council. ■