H.E. E. Rodney M. Perera Ambassador of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s strategic location is its key asset. On the South Western coast, it is located in very close proximity to the world’s busiest sea-lane in the Indian Ocean connecting maritime traffic from Europe, Africa and Asia.

On the Northern coast, it is only a dozen kilometers away from the vast Indian subcontinent. At its Southern extremity, there is no landmass in a straight line all the way up to the South Pole. Thus from ancient times to the present day, Sri Lanka has been the meeting point and entreport between East West trade.

Today with the economic rise of China, India and East Asia, Sri Lanka is a direct beneficiary in multiple ways. Our close and friendly ties with all our neighbours are a great fillip. It has already become a transshipment hub with two major ports. Its tourism industry is benefitting from the rising economic prosperity of the people of Asia. With a highly educated population, the country is fast becoming a knowledge hub and an attractive place for BPO and financial services. We now have two international airports, which are facilitating the country to become an important regional transit hub.

As Ambassador of Sri Lanka, what are the main focus points for you today in Brussels-Bilateral agreements, Economic Diplomacy, Cultural Diplomacy and Education?

The European Union is Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner. The EU GSP+ facility has given us duty free access for over 7000 products to the EU market and our exports to the EU are significantly increasing. At the same time, it is diversifying. My focus continues to be to promote trade and investment as well as tourism. Sri Lanka’s significant peace and stability as a tourist and investor friendly destination has helped in this process. At the political level our endeavour has been to broaden and intensify our dialogue with the European Union on many issues. As a stable and functioning democracy with historical ties to many European countries, we share common ideals and work together at the international level to promote these values. We have a very fruitful cooperation with the EU on issues like migration, where many of our people, who sought refuge here decades ago, are now returning to Sri Lanka in significant numbers. Europe remains a popular destination for many of our students for higher education and so we continue to promote academic exchanges between our universities. As Sri Lanka also has a unique and diverse culture, our music, dance and cuisine are actively promoted to strengthen the synergies.

Renewable energy is on the worldwide priority list related to the sustainability of our globe and climate change. How do you see the evolution in Sri Lanka’s strategy and challenges related to this situation?

Whilst our main source of power generation is hydro powder, coal and petroleum are the two main commercial energy supply sub-sectors in Sri Lanka. Biomass is also emerging as significant form of commercial energy.

The government continues to increase the capacity of renewable energy generation in the country, with a view to enhancing sustainability in the energy sector. The construction of Uma Oya, Moragahakanda and Broadlands hydropower plants are in progress adding more power to the national grid by 2019.

Small-scale hydropower, biomass including dendro power, biogas and waste, solar and wind power are replacing dependency of fossil fuel for power generation. In addition, other NRE resources such as wave energy and ocean thermal energy are also being explored. The Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy has launched a new community based power generation project titled ‚Soorya BalaSangramaya‘ (Battle for Solar Energy) in collaboration with Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority (SLSEA), Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and Lanka Electricity Company (Private) Limited (LECO) to promote the setting up of small solar power plants on the rooftops of households, religious places, hotels, commercial establishments and industries. It is expected to add 200 MW of solar electricity to the national grid by 2020 and 1000 MW by 2025 through this intervention. Under this program, the consumers will have options to generate and use electricity in their premises. In case of electricity in excess of their requirements, they can sell that to the national grid or bank it for later use. According to the electricity usage the customer can select a preferred option from the following three schemes: Net Metering, Net Accounting and Micro Solar Power Producer.

‘RiviBalaSavi’ loan scheme was introduced in 2017 to provide concessionary loans to households through the banking sector to setup rooftop solar power PV panels.
A project has been initiated to convert public sector buildings to solar rooftop power producers. Under this project, 10KW and 20KW solar rooftop systems were provided free for 13 schools, 77 hospitals and four government institutions.

‘RiviAruna’ project commenced in 2017 to convert religious premises to rooftop solar power projects by providing solar panels free to selected religious places. Accordingly, 135 solar systems have been installed in religious places.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is rooted in the ancient Silk Road. It focuses on the Asian, Arabian and European continents, but is also open to all other countries. All countries, from Asia, Arabia, Europe, or the Americas, can be international cooperation partners of the Belt and Road Initiative. The pursuit of this initiative is based on extensive consultation and its benefits will be shared by us all. In what way will your country take part in this initiative and what are the main opportunities for Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is a major player in the BRI as it was a major component of the ancient Silk Road. BRI offers a ‘win-win” and sustainable development opportunity for us. The Chinese-built Hambantota Port, which is at mid-point in the shipping route from Asia to Europe is one of the major BRI initiatives. The Government and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority entered into a concession agreement to further develop the Hambantota port with the aim of developing the country as a maritime hub. Given the fiscal constraints, the government needs to further encourage private sector participation in economic infrastructure development, especially for the efficient operation of transportation, telecommunication and port services, while ensuring the quality of such infrastructure and healthy competition among private sector participants. The Colombo Financial City is another BRI initiative, which is under construction just outside the Port of Colombo. It will become a major hub for financial services, investment and also serve as a conference and business meeting venue.

We are similarly developing our airports and highways to increase connectivity that will enhance trade economic development of all regions of the country.

On a parallel track, we are negotiating Free Trade Agreements with other countries. A FTA with Singapore was concluded earlier this year and several others are under negotiation.

We see the BRI initiative as a significant opportunity for
Sri Lanka’s economic development.

The diversity in Europe today, defined by a continuous Diaspora for millennia, is dying to find a common cultural ground for the European Union. With everything mentioned above, could you create and propose a cultural framework that nurtures this longing for connection in between Europe and Sri Lanka? 

We definitely want our Diaspora community to integrate into their adopted countries whilst continuing to enrich Europe with Sri Lankan culture. I believe the cultural framework has already been set in place by the Diaspora communities themselves through cultural exchanges, business interactions and regular travel between their home country and adopted country. I believe that common ground has to be rooted in shared values. This is the only way trust can be built for a healthy relationship. Already many Europeans have demonstrated a significant interest in Buddhism as a way of life that is compatible with European culture. These are significant strengths that can be built upon and where the Diaspora can enrich European societies.

If you have other topics (tourism) that you would like to address to our readers, do not hesitate to elaborate these.

Sri Lanka is a popular tourist destination for European tourists because of the diversity of Sri Lanka’s multitude of attractions: from the best beaches to the cool mountains, the historical cities with eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, excellent safari parks and rainforests with the high diversity of fauna and flora.

Sri Lanka is particularly popular with European tourists and each year the arrivals continue to increase with many repeat visitors.

Barbara Dietrich