Oct 10 (BP) Opportunities for Thai investors to do business in Sri Lanka are abundant as the country provides the best gateway to the India and European markets, says Poldej Worachat, the Thai ambassador to Colombo.
Thai businessmen can enjoy the benefits from the free trade area agreement between Sri Lanka and India, in which more than 4,000 items qualify for tax exemptions. Sri Lanka also has a similar agreement with Pakistan which has a population of 175 million, he said.
"Thailand and Sri Lanka share the same religion, Buddhism. This would make it a mutual interest for Thailand to use Sri Lanka as a base for manufacturing for the 1.2 billion people in India," Mr Poldej told Asia Focus recently.
Sri Lanka has ample potential for businesses to set up factories to make goods to be sent to other countries. However, some Thai businessmen continue to think of the country as being plagued by violence, even though the Tamil insurgency was decisively ended in 2009, he said.
"The Sri Lankan government has persuaded Thai investors to invest here because there are benefits that we can share," said the Thai ambassador.
Buddhism-related tourism, hotels, services, textiles and construction projects such as expressways are among the ventures that Thailand should keep an eye on, said Mr Poldej.
"There are a lot of construction projects here, especially building five-star hotels, of which there isn't enough supply at present," he said, referring to the upsurge in tourism since the end of the civil war. "This is a great opportunity but Thai businesses are not aware of it."
In addition, second-hand cars, jewellery, sapphire processing as well as producing Buddha images and monks' robes are other areas that Thai investors should not overlook.
Sri Lanka also would like Thai jewellery traders to return to the country but they should trade legally, and not pay tea money to officials, the envoy added.
Mr Poldej said precious stones, notably sapphires, in Sri Lanka are among the best in the world and there is big potential in the next 20 years because many gem deposits still remain to be discovered in areas that were off-limits during the quarter-century conflict with Tamil separatists.
"Investing in the Sri Lanka market is not different from the Indian market but you can gain access and make deals more easily than dealing directly to India," he said. "As well, Sri Lanka has GDP growth of up to 8.9% per year, which is higher than in India."
In addition to using Sri Lanka as a base to serve India, Thai businessmen could also ship products to Europe as Sri Lanka benefits from low tariffs under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) in the European Union.
With a population of 21 million, Sri Lanka will become an even more important location for business and trade after the Thai-backed Dawei deep-sea port of Myanmar starts operating, he said.
Mr Poldej said Thai businessmen should not only see itself as the world's kitchen but should also see the advantage of sharing same religion to expand business opportunities.
Next year will be a special one for Thailand and Sri Lanka as they will celebrate the 260th anniversary of the Siam Wong order of monks. The order was founded by the Siamese missionary Phra Upali, who is credited with helping revive Sinhalese Buddhism which had gone into serious decline under European colonial rule.
The Thai embassy in Colombo was planning to make stamps, cartoon books in Thai and English and produce a stage play to celebrate the anniversary.