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Six ways Sri Lanka can attract more foreign investments

Tatiana Nenova's picture
In 2017, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Sri Lanka grew to over $1,710 billion. But Sri Lanka still has ways to go to attract more FDI.
In 2017, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Sri Lanka grew to over $1,710 billion. But Sri Lanka still has ways to go to attract more FDI. Credit: Shutterstock 


To facilitate Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), Sri Lanka launched last week an innovative online one-stop shop to help investors obtain all official approvals. To mark the occasion, this blog series explores different aspects of FDI in Sri Lanka. Part 1 put forth 5 Reasons Why Sri Lanka Needs FDI. Part 3 will relate how the World Bank is helping to improve Sri Lanka’s enabling environment for FDI.

Sri Lanka and foreign investments read a bit like a hit and miss story.

But it was not always the case.

Before 1983, companies like Motorola and Harris Corporation had plans to establish plants in Sri Lanka’s export processing zones. Others including Marubeni, Sony, Sanyo, Bank of Tokyo and Chase Manhattan Bank, had investments in Sri Lanka in the pipeline in the early 1980s.

All this changed when the war convulsed the country and derailed its growth. Companies left and took their foreign direct investments (FDI) with them.

Nearly a decade after the civil conflict ended in 2009, Sri Lanka is now in a very different place.

In 2017, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Sri Lanka grew to over $1,710 billion including foreign loans received by companies registered with the BOI, more than doubling from the $801 million achieved the previous year.

But Sri Lanka still has ways to go to attract more FDI.
 
As a percentage of GDP, FDI currently stands at a mere 2 percent and lags behind Malaysia at 3 – 4 percent and Vietnam at 5 – 6 percent.

Five reasons why Sri Lanka needs to attract foreign direct investments

Tatiana Nenova's picture
Sri Lanka’s government has recognized the need to foster private-sector and beef up exports to attain the overarching objective of becoming an upper-middle-income economy.
Sri Lanka’s government has recognized the need to foster private-sector and beef up exports to attain the overarching objective of becoming an upper-middle-income economy.

To facilitate Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), Sri Lanka is launching this week an innovative online one-stop shop to help investors obtain all official approvals. To mark the occasion, this blog series explores different aspects of FDI in Sri Lanka. Part 2 will explore how the country can attract more FDI. Part 3 will relate how the World Bank is helping to create an enabling environment for FDI in Sri Lanka.

You may have heard that Sri Lanka is intent on drumming up more foreign direct investments up to $5 billion by 2020. At the same time, the government aims to improve the lives of Sri Lanka’s citizens by generating one million new and better jobs.
 
This isn’t a pipe dream. Thanks to its many advantages like a rich natural resource base, its strategic geographic position, highly literate workforce and fascinating culture, the island nation is ripe for investment in sectors such as tourism, logistics, information technology-enabled services, and high-value-added food processing and apparel.
 
What is foreign direct investment and why does Sri Lanka need it?
 
Very simply, foreign direct investment (or FDI) is an investment made by a company or an individual in a foreign country. Such investments can take the form of establishing a business in Sri Lanka, building a new facility, reinvesting profits earned from Sri Lanka operations or intra-company loans to subsidiaries in Sri Lanka.
 
The hope is that these investment inflows will bring good jobs and higher wages for Sri Lankan workers, increase productivity, and make the economy more competitive.  
 
Sri Lanka’s government has recognized the need to foster private-sector and beef up exports to attain the overarching objective of becoming an upper-middle-income economy.
 
Attracting more FDI can help achieve that goal and fulfill the promise of better jobs.
 
Here are five reasons why:

India’s remarkably robust and resilient growth story

Poonam Gupta's picture

India has achieved much in the last decades. Yet an economic deceleration in the past few quarters has generated worried commentaries about India’s growth potential.  However, our analysis of nearly five decades of data finds that India’s long-term growth process is steady, stable, diversified and resilient. Does this lay the groundwork for a more sustained 8% growth in the future? Yes, possibly, but more is needed. Let us elaborate.

First, India’s long-term economic growth has steadily accelerated over a fifty-year period, without any prolonged reversals. Thus, while growth averaged 4.4 percent a year during the 1970s and 1980s, it accelerated to 5.5 percent during the 1990s-early 2000s, and further to 7.1 percent in the past one decade. The acceleration of growth is evident not just for aggregate GDP, but even more strongly for per capita GDP. The average pace of per capita growth was 5.5 percent a year in the last decade. Interestingly, when compared with some of the world’s largest emerging economies, this steady acceleration of growth stands out as being unique to India.

Second, India’s rate of growth has become more stable. This is partly due to the stabilization of growth within each sector – agriculture, industry and services – and partly to the transition of the economy toward the services sector, where growth is more stable. Particularly interesting is the sharp increase in the stability of GDP growth since 1991. Before this, growth accelerated episodically, was punctuated by large annual variations, and often failed to sustain. Thus, growth has not just accelerated post liberalisation, it has also become more stable.

Third, growth has been broadly diversified. Growth has accelerated the fastest in services, followed by industry, and less so in agriculture. Over the long run, India’s growth has been driven by an increasing share of investment and exports, with a large contribution from consumption. Growth has also been characterized by productivity gains – both in labor productivity as well as in total factor productivity.

Finally, growth has been broadly resilient to shocks, both domestic and external. The resilience of India’s growth can be attributed to the country’s large and spatially diversified economy, as well as to its diversified production structure that is not dependent on a few products, commodities, or natural resources. It can also be attributed to India’s diversified trade basket and broad range of trading partners, wherein a slowdown in any one part of the world will not result in a large impact on India.



The resilience of India’s growth process was on display in recent years when the country recovered quickly from the impacts of two major policy events – demonetization and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), an important indirect tax reform. We argue that the deceleration to growth rates below 7 percent between Q3 2016–17 and Q2 2017–18 was an aberration, attributed to temporary disruptions in economic activity as the economy adjusted to demonetization and businesses prepared for the implementation of GST. At present, there are indications that the economy has bottomed out and, in the coming quarters, economic activity should revert to the trend growth rate of about 7.5 percent. We project GDP growth to be 6.7 percent in 2017-18 and accelerate to 7.3 percent and 7.5 percent respectively in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Enabling digital financial inclusion for rural women: emerging findings from India

Shobha Shetty's picture
"Pehle to bank jaane se bhi dar lagta tha, aur ab hum bank wali didi ban gaye hain’’ (Earlier I used to be afraid of stepping into a bank branch but now I am called a bank representative!). These are the words of Nidhi Kumari, aged 24 who hails from a Baheri Village in Darbhanga district of Bihar. You cannot help but notice the pride and new-found self-confidence behind her wide smile.

Nidhi is one of over 1500 Banking Correspondent Agents (BCAs) under the World Bank’s (IDA $500M) National Rural Livelihood Project (NRLP) in India that supports the Government’s National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) in 13 high poverty states.
 
 Jeevika.
Nidhi Kumari at her BC Kiosk serving customers in her village. Photo courtesy: Jeevika.

Agent-based branchless banking in India is not new and has been around for over a decade. Given that there are over 650,000 villages in India and that less than 10 percent of villages have bank branches[i], an ICT-enabled alternate channel is now a dire necessity to enable greater financial inclusion. This agenda got a further boost when the Government of India launched the  Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) in 2014 to boost financial inclusion. To date, over 310 million PMJDY bank accounts (basic savings bank accounts) have been opened with 53 percent of these accounts now being held by women.

India's growth story

Poonam Gupta's picture

The World Bank is releasing its biannual flagship publication, the India Development Update. It takes stock of the Indian economy and assesses what it will take India to move to a higher growth trajectory.

The Update describes the state of the Indian economy, shares its perspective on the Indian growth experience and trajectory over the past two and a half decades, and analyses the near-term outlook for growth, the global economic outlook and its impact on the Indian economy.



The Update, to be formally launched on March 14, features a historic analysis of India’s economic performance in order to assess what it will take India to return to growth rates of 8 percent and higher on a sustained basis.

Sri Lanka at 70: Looking back and forward

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
A view from the Independence day parade.At 70, Sri Lanka has accomplished a lot in its seven decades as an independent nation.
A view from the 2018 Independence Day parade. At 70, Sri Lanka has accomplished a lot in its seven decades as an independent nation. Credit: World Bank

Like many Sri Lankans across the country, I joined Sri Lanka’s 70th Independence Day festivities earlier this month. This was undoubtedly a joyful moment, and proof of the country’s dynamism and stability. At 70, Sri Lanka has accomplished a lot in its seven decades as an independent nation.
 
The country’s social indicators, a measure of the well-being of individuals and communities, rank among the highest in South Asia and compare favorably with those in middle-income countries. In the last half-century, better healthcare for mothers and their children has reduced maternal and infant mortality to very low levels.
 
Sri Lanka’s achievements in education have also been impressive. Close to 95 percent of children now complete primary school with an equal proportion of girls and boys enrolled in primary education and a slightly higher number of girls than boys in secondary education.
 
The World Bank has been supporting Sri Lanka’s development for more than six decades. In 1954, our first project, Aberdeen-Laxapana Power Project, which financed the construction of a dam, a power station, and transmissions lines, was instrumental in helping the young nation meet its growing energy demands, boost its trade and develop light industries in Colombo, and provide much-needed power to tea factories and rubber plantations. In post-colonial Sri Lanka, this extensive electrical transmission and distribution project aimed to serve new and existing markets and improve a still fragile national economy.
 
Fast forward a few decades and Sri Lanka in 2018 is a far more prosperous and sophisticated country than it was in 1954 and, in many ways, has been a development success story. Yet, the island nation still faces some critical challenges as it strives to transition to another stage of its development and become a competitive upper middle-income country.
 
Notably, the current overreliance on the public-sector as the main engine for growth and investment, from infrastructure to healthcare, is reaching its limits.  With one of the world’s lowest tax to gross domestic product (GDP) ratios -- 12% in 2016, down from 24% in 1978 —Sri Lanka’s public sector is now facing serious budget constraints and the country needs to look for additional sources of finance to boost and sustain its growth.
 
As outlined in its Vision 2025, the current government has kickstarted an ambitious reform agenda to help the country move from a public investment to a more private investment growth model to enhance competitiveness and lift all Sri Lankans’ standards of living.
 
Now is the time to steer this vision into action. This is urgent as Sri Lanka is one of the world’s most protectionist countries and one of the hardest to start and run a business. As it happens, private foreign investment is much lower than in comparable economies and trade as a proportion of GDP has decreased from 88% in 2000 to 50% in 2016. Reversing this downward trend is critical for Sri Lanka to meet its development aspirations and overcome the risk of falling into a permanent “middle-income trap.”

The Legacy of Saman Kelegama

Sanjay Kathuria's picture
Saman Kelegama, a Sri Lankan economist and the Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS Sri Lanka) died prematurely in June 2017. He was a champion of deeper South Asian cooperation.
Saman Kelegama, a Sri Lankan economist and the Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS Sri Lanka) died prematurely in June 2017. He was a champion of deeper South Asian cooperation. Credit:  Institute of Policy Studies

I first met Saman in the early 1990s in Delhi.  Over the years, our paths diverged.  When I re-engaged on South Asia, I ran into Saman again. We re-connected instantly, despite the long intervening period.  This was easy to do with Saman—soft-spoken, affable, a gentleman to the core.  He bore his considerable knowledge lightly.  

Despite his premature passing away in June 2017, he left a rich and varied legacy behind him. I will confine myself to discussing his insights on regional cooperation in South Asia, based on his public writings and my interactions with him.

Saman was a champion of deeper economic linkages within South Asia. He was also pragmatic. 

Along with a few other regional champions, Saman, as the head of the Institute of Policy Studies in Colombo, helped to kick-start the “South Asian Economic Summit”, or SAES, in Colombo in 2008, to provide a high-profile forum for dialogue on topical issues, especially South Asian regional integration. It is remarkable that the SAES has endured, without any gap. The fact that the policy and academic fraternity meet with unfailing regularity, despite on-and-off political tensions in the region, is testimony to its value.

Saman repeatedly stressed that Sri Lanka has been able to reap benefits from the India-Sri Lanka FTA (ISFTA), contrary to the general belief. His arguments were powerful: the import-export ratio for Sri Lanka improved from 10.3 in 2000 (the start of the ISFTA) to 6.6 in 2015; about 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s exports to India get duty-free access under the FTA, but less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s imports from India come under the FTA (since India provided “special and differential treatment” to Sri Lanka).

Measuring South Asia’s economy from outer space

Martin Rama's picture
New technologies offer an opportunity to strengthen economic measurement. Evening luminosity observed from satellites has been shown to be a good proxy for economic activity.
New technologies offer an opportunity to strengthen economic measurement. Evening luminosity observed from satellites has been shown to be a good proxy for economic activity.
Economic growth is a key concern for economists, political leaders, and the broader population.

But how confident are we that the available data on economic activity paints an accurate picture of a country’s performance?

Measuring Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the most standard measure of economic activity, is especially challenging in developing countries, where the informal sector is large and institutional constraints can be severe.

In addition, many countries only provide GDP measures annually and at the national level. Not surprisingly, GDP growth estimates are often met with skepticism.
 
New technologies offer an opportunity to strengthen economic measurement. Evening luminosity observed from satellites has been shown to be a good proxy for economic activity.

As shown in Figure 1, there is a strong correlation between nightlight intensity and GDP levels in South Asia: the higher the nightlight intensity on the horizontal axis, the stronger the economic activity on the vertical axis.
Figure 1 Nightlight intensity increases with economic activity
Figure 1 Nightlight intensity increases with economic activity

However, measuring nightlight is challenging and comes with a few caveats. Clouds, moonlight, and radiance from the sun can affect measurement accuracy, which then requires filtering and standardizing.

On the other hand, nighlight data has a lot advantages like being available in high-frequency and with a very high spatial resolution. In the latest edition of South Asia Economic Focus, we use variations in nightlight intensity to analyze economic trends and illustrate how this data can help predict GDP over time and across space.

Bicycles can boost Bangladesh's exports

Nadeem Rizwan's picture
Bangladesh is the 2nd largest non-EU exporter of bicycles to the EU and the 8th largest exporter overall
Bicycles are the largest export of Bangladesh’s engineering sector, contributing about 12 percent of engineering exports. Credit: World Bank
This blog is part of a series exploring new sources of competitiveness in Bangladesh

Did you know that Bangladesh is the 2nd largest non-EU exporter of bicycles to the EU and the 8th largest exporter overall?

Bicycles are the largest export of Bangladesh’s engineering sector, contributing about 12 percent of engineering exports.
 
This performance is in large part due to the high anti-dumping duty imposed by the EU against China.
 
Recently, the EU Parliament and the Council agreed on EU Commission’s proposal on a new methodology for calculating anti-dumping on imports from countries with significant market distortions or pervasive state influence on the economy.
 
This decision could mean that the 48.5 percent anti-dumping duty for Chinese bicycles may not end in 2018 as originally intended. China is disputing the EU’s dumping rules at the World Trade Organization.
 
As the global bicycle market is expected to grow to $34.9 billion by 2022, Bangladesh has an opportunity to diversify its exports beyond readymade garments. Presently, Bangladesh is the 2nd largest non-EU exporter of bicycles to the EU and the 8th largest exporter overall.
Bangladesh is the 2nd largest non-EU exporter of bicycles to the EU and the 8th largest exporter overall
EU27 bicycle imports in 2016 (Million $). Bangladesh is the 2nd largest non-EU exporter of bicycles to the EU and the 8th largest exporter overall. Source: UNComtrade through WITS

However, if the EU anti-dumping duty against China is reduced or lifted after 2018, Bangladesh’s price edge might be eroded.
 
Bangladeshi bicycle exporters estimate that without anti-dumping duties, Chinese bicycles could cost at least 10-20 percent less than Bangladeshi bicycles on European markets. And Chinese exporters can ship bicycles to the EU market with 35-50 percent shorter lead times.
 
So, how can Bangladeshi bicycles survive and grow?

Six reasons why Sri Lanka needs to boost its ailing private sector

Tatiana Nenova's picture
 Joe Qian / World Bank
A view of the business district in Colombo. Credit: Joe Qian / World Bank

Sri Lanka experienced strong growth at the end of its 26-year conflict. This was to be expected as post-war reconstruction tends to bring new hope and energy to a country.
 
And Sri Lanka has done well—5 percent growth is nothing to scoff at.  
 
However, Sri Lanka needs to create an environment that fosters private-sector growth and creates more and better jobs. To that end, the country should address these 6 pressing challenges:

1. The easy economic wins are almost exhausted

For a long time, the public-sector has been pouring funds into everything from infrastructure to healthcare. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s public sector is facing serious budget constraints. The island’s tax to growth domestic product (GDP) ratio is one of the lowest in the world, falling from 24.2% in 1978 to 10.1% in 2014. Sri Lanka should look for more sustainable sources of growth. As in many other countries, the answer lies with the private sector.
 
2. Sri Lanka has isolated itself from global and regional value chains 

Over the past decades, Sri Lanka has lost its trade competitiveness. As illustrated in the graph below, Sri Lanka outperformed Vietnam in the early 1990s on how much of its trade contributed to its growth domestic product. Vietnam has now overtaken Sri Lanka where trade has been harmed by high tariffs and para-tariffs and trade interventions on agriculture.


Sri Lanka dropped down by 14 notches to the 85th position out of 137 in the recent  Global Competitiveness Index.
           
3. The system inhibits private sector growth

Sri Lanka’s private sector is ailing. Sri Lankan companies are entrepreneurial and the country’s young people are smart, inquisitive, and dynamic. Yet, this does not translate into a vibrant private sector. Instead, public enterprises are the ones carrying the whole weight of development in this country.
 
The question is, why is the private sector not shouldering its burden of growth?


From the chart above, you can see how difficult it is to set up and operate a business in Sri Lanka. From paying taxes to enforcing contracts to registering property, entrepreneurs have the deck stacked against them.
 
Trading across borders is particularly challenging for Sri Lankan businesses. Trade facilitation is inadequate to the point of stunting growth and linkages to regional value chains. The chart explains just why Sri Lanka is considered one of the hardest countries in the world to run a trading business. Compare it to Singapore–you could even import a live tiger there without a problem.

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