Asha, from Udaipur District in Rajasthan, used to sell vegetables in a nearby town. Over time, this traditional village woman observed that flowers were in demand near the town’s main temple for use as ritual offerings. With encouragement from Manjula, a micro enterprise consultant under the Bank’s Rajasthan Rural Livelihoods Project (RRLP), Asha began cultivating marigolds on part of her family farm where millets had always been grown. She has devoted a larger area of her farm to floriculture, and started a nursery to grow flower saplings to sell to other aspiring marigold farmers. Asha is now looking to expand her sapling nursery by renting more land, for which she is seeking a bank loan.
Outside Kathmandu in Nepal, Ambika Ranamgar used to work for building contractors, cutting marble and laying tiles in houses under construction. Then she struck out on her own. With encouragement and support from a community mobilizer under the Nepal Poverty Alleviation Fund (NPAF), Ambika took a loan of Rs. 80,000 ($740) to buy her own equipment, including a marble-cutting machine and a generator to power the machines during the city’s frequent power cuts. She then scouted for work visiting local hardware stores, and gradually began to get more clients. Ambika’s income has now more than doubled from her daily wage of Rs. 600 to reach between Rs. 1,000 to 1,500 rupees per day. She is now focused on getting more business and managing her supplies and workers. At the time we visited her, Ambika had employed five workers, including her husband, and was busy laying the flooring for two houses.
Two years ago, we started counting how many Sri Lankan agencies were involved in trade facilitation processes such as issuing permits and managing the movement of goods in and out of the country. We counted at least 22 agencies in this assessment, and today, the Department of Commerce estimates that number at least 34 agencies are involved in issuing permits or publishing regulations that affect trade.
We know trade is critical to Sri Lanka’s future and that there are strong links between trade, economic growth and poverty reduction.
However, the trading community reports a lack of transparency, confusion around rules and regulations, poor coordination between various ministries and a dearth of critical infrastructure—you can see why trade has suffered in Sri Lanka.
When the World Bank evaluates a country’s performance in critical rankings like Doing Business, the ease of trading across borders is one of the benchmarks we consider. In this, and in other lists like the Logistics Performance Index, Sri Lanka is underperforming compared with its potential. Here, the average trade transaction involves over 30 different parties with different objectives, incentives, competence and constituencies they answer to, and up to 200 data elements, many of which are repeated multiple times. This environment constrains the growth of Sri Lanka’s private sector, especially SMEs.
But now for the good news. By ratifying the World Trade Organisation Trade Facilitation Agreement, Sri Lanka has signalled its determination to intensify reform efforts.