President Ranil Wickremesinghe has expressed his commitment to propel significant advancements in Sri Lanka’s gem industry within the next two years.
To achieve this goal, he intends to implement a new program. Emphasizing the program’s positive impact on both the national economy and industry stakeholders, the president highlighted plans for extensive modernization within the gem and jewellery sector.
He underscored the importance of not only providing tax concessions but also transforming the gem and jewellery industry into a pivotal sector that contributes significantly to the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
The president was speaking during his attendance at the opening ceremony of the “Gem Sri Lanka 2024” Gem and Jewellery Exhibition organized by the China Fort Gems and Jewellery Trade Association yesterday (11).
The exhibition, hosted at the Bentota Cinnamon Bay Hotel, will run until January 13.
President Wickremesinghe, inaugurating the event, actively participated in exploring trade stalls and engaging in friendly conversations with gem industrialists to better understand their challenges.
The China Fort Gems and Jewellery Association presented a souvenir to the President during the occasion.
Addressing the ceremony, President Wickremesinghe emphasized the need for a new economic system in the country that is geared towards exports, aiming to generate foreign exchange and foster economic growth.
He further said;
Welcoming delegations from around the globe to this gathering is truly a pleasure. Beruwala, renowned as the hub for gems in Sri Lanka, takes pride in hosting this distinguished audience. Our special focus on advancing the gem industry reflects our commitment to its development, a sentiment echoed in my recent budget speech where I highlighted the formulation of a comprehensive policy framework.
In the forthcoming two months, diligent efforts are underway to craft this policy framework, signalling a significant stride toward the prosperity of our nation’s gem industry. Sri Lanka, with its vast potential in gems, stands poised for remarkable progress.
As Ian Fleming once immortalized diamonds by saying “diamonds are forever,” we proudly affirm that Sri Lanka’s gems, including the enduring sapphires, share a timeless legacy.
Reflecting on the global landscape, it’s notable that the Chinese market, particularly represented by the Shenzhen Jewellery Association, is still in its early stages. Recalling my visit to Shenzhen in 1979, where there was only a paddy field, witnessing its transformation into a diverse economic powerhouse today is remarkable.
However, there is a reciprocal learning opportunity. The government’s focus on gem re-export, value addition, and augmenting foreign exchange inflows necessitates a modernized gem industry. Recognizing the associated challenges, it’s crucial to address them strategically. While tax relief has been a customary request, merely granting concessions without substantial sectoral growth is inadequate. The key lies in concurrent development and strengthening of economic foundations for everyone involved in the industry, alongside fostering knowledge enhancement for gem polishers.
I strongly oppose the proposal to grant tax exemptions merely for individuals to amass personal wealth. My objective is to foster substantial growth in the industry over the next two years, with a particular focus on benefiting the communities in Beruwala, Ratnapura and Laggala. This approach should not only contribute to the national welfare but also ensure widespread prosperity within the industry.
Reflecting on the challenges our nation faced two years ago, including a severe economic downturn, fuel shortages, fertilizer scarcity and difficulties in obtaining food, we have successfully overcome those hurdles. The restoration of essential services, facilitated by foreign exchange, marks a significant achievement. However, it’s crucial to note that this foreign exchange is sourced from institutions like the World Bank and the support of nations, such as the American government’s provision of fertilizers in 2022.
While such external assistance has been valuable, relying on it consistently is not a sustainable approach. The country must actively strive to earn the foreign exchange it requires. This necessitates the development of a robust export-oriented economy. Leveraging the potential for high income, particularly from the gem industry, we must transition towards economic self-sufficiency and reduce dependence on external aid. Merely making promises is insufficient; a proactive strategy is needed to create a new economy that can generate foreign exchange for the country’s sustained growth.
Furthermore, there exists the potential for revenue generation within the tourism industry. Spanning from Beruwala, Aluthgama to Galle, the fishing industry in this region is a global player, competing on an international scale. This model should extend to the rest of our nation’s planning.
As we propel forward as a nation, the imperative is to secure foreign exchange through our collective endeavours. While words may be spoken, tangible outcomes are indispensable.
Setting a target of 2% economic growth for the current year, albeit modest, it’s crucial to recall that the country’s economy contracted by a staggering minus 7% in the preceding year. We are now on a gradual upward trajectory, with an ambition to elevate economic growth to 5% by 2025. Subsequently, we aim for a more ambitious target of 7% – 8%. Executing these plans meticulously could facilitate the recovery of the country within a span of five years.
Presently, citizens across the country grapple with the challenge of the rising cost of living. I firmly believe that a collective understanding of the country’s actual situation can pave the way for overcoming this predicament within the next two years.
The advantage of shaping the future of our nation lies with the youth community. It is crucial to emphasize that we are diligently crafting a robust economy for the prosperity of the upcoming generation.