Following the very first Sri Lankan Trade Exhibition and Food Festival in the capital, H E Asoka Girihagama is a hopeful man. “It has been 25 years coming and generated trade and general interest about the island nation here,” said the Sri Lankan Ambassador to Oman. “In the past, our mission had to perform many different functions which took precedence over promoting trade. We established the Sri Lankan School, social club and had many other such endeavours and all of this took a while. But finally, we have had a chance to evaluate our bilateral trade relationship more carefully.”
The numbers don’t look too good for Sri Lanka at the moment. “According to trade statistics bet-ween Sri Lanka and Oman, in 2010, our bilateral trade stood at US$100mn. However, of this only $10mn was flowing from Sri Lanka to Oman while the balance was coming from Oman to our country,” H E Girihagama said. “By 2011, bilateral trade had grown to $232mn but of that, only $9mn came from Sri Lanka with the rest coming from the sultanate. It was growing imbalance that prompted us to organise this trade fair.”
Twenty-five exhibitors from the island country took part exhibiting products ranging from apparel, food products to gems and jewellery. “Twenty-five is a really good number considering our country’s size. Most Omanis know our country for tea and tourism. But we have a diverse range of products that we wanted to showcase and a trade fair like this was the perfect platform for that. Some of these include apparel, boats, leather products, horticulture and organic products and vegetables,” HE Girihagama said.
Although 2013 marks 25 years of relations between the two countries, Oman is still a virgin market for Sri Lankan businesses. “Most of the exhibitors we approached to exhibit in Oman were very happy with this kind of an opportunity because the sultanate is a brand new destination for them. At the moment, Sri Lanka is looking for new markets to export our products to. Most of the traders who took part established contacts with local businesses that attended the fair. Some even managed to go out of the trade fair and meet businessmen around the city.”
HE Girihagama believes that trade between the two countries is only just picking up and there are many avenues to still be explored. “At the moment, we are trying to get some sort of cooperation in the banking sector. Maritime defence would be another burgeoning sector. In addition, we are looking to cooperate more in the education and ayurvedic medicine.
“Trade is always a two-way street and so while the trade fair was going on in Oman, we had an initiative where we were promoting the sultanate in Sri Lanka.” The benefits of such a trade fair can already be seen with the first Sri Lankan container heading to Oman with a variety of products and a business delegation visiting later on this year. HE Girihagama is now hopeful that the trade fair will become an annual fixture.