Sri Lankan importers struggling in the face of rising nationalism are urging the government to quickly implement trade reforms, but not depend too much on policy experts from overseas.
"I wish to make a special request, in fact appeal, that policy makers engage the trade in discussion, use the level of expertise available locally and not depend too much on external help," said Nishan Nanayakkara Chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Import Section.
Various multinational organisations are assisting Sri Lanka to make trade reforms, including the Global Alliance for Trade Faciliation, which develops country-specific trade reforms to comply with WTO's new trade facilitation rules.
The alliance is engaged by Vietnam which is already implementing a programme while Columbia, Ghana and Kenya are in various stages of development.
"Consider the proposals and suggestions made by associations such as ours, proposals that will derive long term benefits to our country, ensure policies will be followed through and most importantly, are implemented so that desired results will be achieved," Nanayakkara told the 83rd AGM of the import business grouping of the chamber.
"2017 was an extremely challenging one for importers. Escalating global material prices, domestic tariff changes, currency depreciation, increase in fuel prices, adverse weather conditions, not only had negative implications to our economy but also hurt the competitiveness of our exports," Nanayakkara said, according to a statement issued by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.
The government was rolling out policies without much stakeholder consultation,he charged adding that implementation was also often too slow.
The statement said the Import Section is represented in high-level trade consultative committees on free trade agreements and other policy consultative committees on trade liberalisation, national single window for Customs, logistics, trade information portal and trade facilitation.
"The Import Section has been working very closely with the Sri Lanka Customs to bring about reforms to suit the present day requirements in international trade activities," Nanayakkara said.
"Sadly, the progress has not been to the expectations of the trade. We hope that the authorities will expedite the process without further delay as some of the key proposals need to be amended to enable facilitation of paperless trade and even the pre-arrival clearances," he said.
The government is planning to overhaul Sri Lanka's Customs code, but influential labour unions are blocking its passage.
Customs is also digitizing the entire cargo clearance process.
The Department of Import Export Control and Sri Lanka Standard Institution were linked to Custom's online Asycuda World System.
Expenditure on imports increased 9.4 percent in 2017 to 21 billion US dollars.
Despite the reduction in average import prices of wheat, expenditure on wheat and maize increased by 43.1 percent to 357 million US dollars owing to higher import volumes of wheat. Dairy imports rose 27 percent on rising milk powder costs.
Palm oil imports rose 76 percent on falling domestic coconut oil volumes. Rice imports rose sharply after tariffs were lowered to meet shortages caused by adverse weather.