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Sri Lankan Initiative with Harvard Professor Showcases its Economic Maturity

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Setting its sights on becoming on major player in the global garment manufacturing industry, the Sri Lankan government announced the commencement of AllWorld’s Sri Lanka Fast Growth 25 (Sri Lanka25), a new initiative designed to promote the country’s most technologically advanced and promising companies.

Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School and Sri Lanka’s Joint Apparel Association Forum co-founded the AllWorld Network, the parent organization that spawned Sri Lanka25. Michele J. Sison explained the collaborative conception of Sri Lanka25. “This venture is a successful outgrowth of AllWorld Network’s meetings last year with top Sri Lankan CEOs who visited the United States on a trip organized by the Business Council for International Understanding in order to encourage greater linkages between Sri Lankan and U.S. companies. Our goal with these programs is to expand these partnerships, fostering a win/win environment where business-to-business connections can flourish.”

The primary objective of Sri Lanka25 is to showcase Sri Lanka’s rise as an economic power to attract both business and foreign investment. Anne Habiby, C-CEO of the AllWorld Network, said, “The goal of AllWorld’s SriLanka25 is to present a deeper picture of Sri Lanka’s entrepreneurial and innovative capacity based on real time annual information. This SriLanka25 ranking and accompanying data will facilitate access to capital, open new markets for entrepreneurs, provide real time feedback to policy makers and point the way forward for entrepreneurs to create the next economy for their country. When entrepreneurship takes hold, the growth momentum builds, generating economic breakthroughs and social progress.”

Sri Lanka has been positioning itself as an emerging exporter and has certainly shown signs that it’s poised for future growth. It exported $4.5 billion worth of apparel in 2013, 13 percent more than in 2012, according to data released by its Central Bank. Total garment exports for 2013 comprised 43 percent of the country’s total exports, up from 40 percent the year before. In 2013, Sri Lanka unseated Pakistan as the number ten U.S. apparel source country, shipping a total of $1.6 billion, an increase of 11.6% over 2012.

Sri Lanka’s biggest export customers are the U.S. and the E.U., which collectively account for more than 70 percent of apparel exports. And Sri Lanka is currently negotiating a new free trade agreement with China that could have a significant impact on its exports there, which already reached $108 million in 2012. And Sri Lanka is currently negotiating a new free trade agreement with China that could have a significant impact on its exports there, which already reached $108 million in 2012.

Ashroff Omar, CEO of Brandix and a founding chairman of Sri Lanka Apparel, spoke to the burgeoning relationship Sri Lanka has cultivated with the U.S. “The United States of America is Sri Lanka’s largest export market. Over the years Sri Lankan companies have been recognised by US buyers as being reliable, ethical, compliant and sustainable – in other words Exemplary Citizens of the Corporate World. This has been achieved in spite of the terrible period we had to face pre-2009.”

The Sri Lankan government has not been shy about publicly trumpeting its newfound commercial virtues. P.B. Jayasundera, Secretary to the Treasury, at the Tenth Annual General Meeting of the Joint Apparel Association Forum last month, anticipated that Sri Lanka will soon become a top ten power not only in garment production but in design as well, as its technology continues to improve and work force becomes progressively more skilled. He painted a hopeful picture of the apparel industry in Sri Lanka, especially given its loss of special status under the E.U.’s Generalized System of Preferences. The country has also struggled with substantial increases in electricity and oil tariffs.

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