- Finance Minister listens patiently but refuses to reverse Budget liberalisation move
- Agrees to arrange meeting with PM for local shipping and freight forwarding firms
- President Sirisena sympathetic when industry called on him to make representations
- Agents demoralised over failure by Govt. to heed warning of loss of tax revenue, foreign exchange earnings and jobs
Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera has stood his ground on the full liberalisation of the shipping and freight forwarding sectors despite the local industry stepping up its lobbying against the move.
When industry representatives met the Finance Minister on Friday, the latter had paid patient attention to their views. However, he had indicated that the original 2018 Budget proposal allowing foreign lines to go for 100% ownership in Lankan operations would not be changed.
Nevertheless, Minister Samaraweera has assured that the local industry will be engaged in the implementation of the proposal to liberalise the industry.
Samaraweera has also assured he would arrange a meeting with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe if the industry was keen to press on.
The engagement with the Finance Minister came after the shipping and freight forwarding industry called on President Maithripala Sirisena in the middle of last week. At that meeting, Sirisena too had patiently given ear and been sympathetic towards the industry’s concerns. Coalition member SLFP-linked Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe has stood by the local industry, voicing support as well opposing the 2018 Budget move both within and outside Parliament.
The local industry has claimed that liberalisation will only result in foreign companies converting Sri Lanka into a cost centre, a move which will erode tax revenue and result in the loss of foreign exchange earnings and local jobs. They are demoralised over the failure by the Government to heed their warning.
However, the Finance Minister is insistent that liberalisation is the way forward if Sri Lank is to truly harness its full potential to become a maritime hub. Leading foreign shipping lines such as Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd have also hailed the liberalisation proposal.