You have taken charge as the consul general last year. What are your focus areas when it comes to strengthening bilateral ties with the UAE?
We are focusing on strengthening our bilateral relations across multiple sectors, particularly trade, investment and tourism. We are currently looking at signing a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the UAE and we expect to start the process soon. We also want to import many new Sri Lankan products to the UAE as there is a big demand for apparel, tea, gems, coconut products, seafood and fresh vegetables and fruits. This will help us expand Sri Lanka’s export basket to the UAE and other GCC countries.
When it comes to investments, we are mainly focusing on attracting foreign direct investments (FDIs) to Sri Lanka, especially to Colombo Port City. However, we are also considering investments in other sectors, including the construction industry, hospitality and hotel development, and tourism-related projects as the Sri Lankan government is now trying to transform some of the state-owned enterprises into private entities. We are also looking at strengthening Sri Lanka’s presence in key sectors in the UAE, such as logistics, IT, and business process outsourcing.
Tourism is a critical sector for Sri Lanka’s economy and the consulate is focused on promoting Sri Lanka as a tourist destination, both for budget and luxury holidays.
With numerous daily flights to Sri Lanka from the UAE, people can easily access the island nation and explore its unique attractions. Gem and jewellery is another important sector that we want to promote in the UAE. Our aim is to expand Sri Lanka’s exports from $350 million (Dh1.28 billion) to $500 million in the next two years.
What activities are you planning to organise to improve bilateral relations?
To drive bilateral trade, the Consulate General of Sri Lanka will organise a promotional event, Sri Lanka Beyond Your Dreams, on March 8 at Hilton Al Habtoor, where we will be inviting over 300 entrepreneurs from Sri Lanka. We also regularly participate in key trade shows in the UAE, including Gulfood, Dubai Boat show, Gulfood Green & Agrotech, Arabian Travel Market (ATM) and GITEX, where we showcase Sri Lanka’s key export items and services.
What steps has the consulate taken to connect with the community?
There are around 340,000 Sri Lankan expats living in the UAE, with many of them working as quantity surveyors, bankers, charted accountants, and IT, hospitality and insurance professionals, apart from hundreds of domestic and the blue-collar workers. With the support of the government, we want to minimise the challenges faced by the blue-collar workers in the UAE and expand the professional community in the UAE by drawing more experienced professionals to the UAE to work across sectors.
We are planning to organise some sports-related activities to bring the Sri Lankan community living in Dubai together.
What steps have you taken to promote Sri Lanka’s tourism potential?
We have big plans for Arabian Travel Market, taking place in May. This year, we are planning to look beyond the UAE and GCC and explore new markets in Africa and Europe. The consulate general in Dubai will also organise several country-specific tourism promotional events from time to time. We are also facilitating visits of influencers and opinion leaders to Sri Lanka to create more awareness about its tourism attractions. We regularly invite destination management companies, travel agents and airlines representatives to showcase Sri Lanka.
Any message for the community in Dubai and northern emirates on Sri Lanka’s Independence Day?
The UAE offers plenty of opportunities for employment, trade and investments across sectors and Sri Lankans shouldn’t miss exploring any of these opportunities. I urge them to live in harmony with other nationalities in the UAE and contribute to the growth and development of both nations. We all must get together and start rebuilding Sri Lanka, transforming it into a prosperous and developed nation within the next 25 years. ■