Business opportunities abound in Sri Lanka, says local entrepreneur


 Mr Mathieu shows a neatly packed piece of slated fish ready for export to Sri Lanka

He was speaking at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies in Colombo, during last month’s official state visit to the Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

“Sri Lanka is a much larger island than Seychelles. But we share an outlook which is based on a shared vision. A vision which, rather than seeing islands as isolated, positions islands as being connectors in the world economy. We provide connections in terms of trade. We provide connections in terms of our oceanic spaces. We provide connections in terms of ideas. Thus from the north of the Indian Ocean to the equator, Seychelles and Sri Lanka offer an ocean of opportunity,” said President Michel.

A local entrepreneur of Port Glaud who apart from being a farmer also exports dry salted fish to Sri Lanka, Rodley Mathieu shares the same view.

“Opportunities to do business in Sri Lanka are plentiful. It all depends on us Seychellois to explore the different avenues available and start taking advantage of them,” says Mr Mathieu, who has been doing business for almost five years with the neighbouring island nation. He says the export business is very good and still flourishing.

Mr Mathieu said it all started with the construction and operation of the five-star Constance Ephelia Resort at Port Glaud where he met a Sri Lankan businessman George Osman Madensa Gunesekara who talked him into a business partnership.

He was at that time providing fresh vegetables from his farm to the hotel. Together, they set up SeyLanka Pty Ltd – a small company exporting dry salted fish to Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan construction company Sanken built the Ephelia resorts.

“I get my supply of fish from tuna fishing vessels here. Salted fish from Seychelles is in great demand in Sri Lanka where it is sold like hot cakes. Sri Lankan consumers consider Seychelles fish of very high standard. To them it is like eating beef,” said a smiling Mr Mathieu.
Those who know this island nation of more than 20 million people quite well may say Sri Lanka is a fishing nation and has fish in abundance. But Sri Lankans themselves find the price of fish in their country expensive.

“Generally all the fish caught are sold instantly on the coast. To transport them inland can prove costly as investment in refrigerated vehicles or equipment is needed. Also it is a minimum two-hour drive to the nearest feasible distribution centre. Therefore, it is not that appealing to entrepreneurs there to venture into transportation when they can do business right where they fish,” added Mr Mathieu.

He firmly believes local businessmen, be it small or big, can have great business dealings with Sri Lanka be it in either exports or imports. The geographical location and climate are also great assets. Sri Lanka is now producing equipment like tractors, boats of ISO standard and of Lloyd’s shipping company certification; ready-made garments which are also exported to various developed countries like the United States, United Kingdom, France and other European countries.

For our local tailoring businesses fine quality fabrics at very cheap prices can be imported from Sri Lanka.

Mr Mathieu also noted that business with neighbouring Sri Lanka can be done in two ways – local products can either be manufactured here then exported to Sri Lanka. The other option is that Sri Lanka can be used as a transit point – the raw materials are sent there where they are processed and exported to other parts of the world. This is feasible especially in circumstances where we Seychellois lack the skilled manpower or because of high production costs locally.

He acknowledged that Sri Lankans are generally genuine people when it comes to doing business. Seychelles will be acknowledged on the finished products through labelling on the packaging. He also cited his own example where his salted fish is exported to Korea through Sri Lanka.

Cottage industries are also a major driving force in the Sri Lankan economy and play a vital role in generating income for the ordinary people there. Seychelles could learn a lot and therefore be more innovative in this aspect as Sri Lanka’s flora and fauna are so typical to ours. One such industry that our local people can check out is coconut – Sri Lanka does not throw anything away from a coconut tree!

Mr Mathieu also talked about tourism – another avenue that can be exploited.
President Michel also did talk about tourism possibilities between the two islands during his economic cooperation talks on his visit to Sri Lanka.

“We are also exploring the possibilities of joint marketing for “two-centre” tourism. Sri Lanka has a wealth of historical and cultural heritage which, combined with Seychelles’ unique natural beauty and world-class Creole hospitality, would be added attractions and incentives for travellers wishing to have a rich Indian Ocean experience,” the President said.

Due to the attractive rate of its rupee, products like fresh fruits, spices, vegetables, spare parts, fertilisers, clothes, and various equipments can also be imported from Sri Lanka. Fish, coconuts, cinnamon and granite are some of Seychelles’ produce that can be exported to Sri Lanka.

But Mr Mathieu is also aware of the current constraints of doing business with Sri Lanka – transportation to and from the island is a real problem. Air links from Seychelles are mainly through destinations like Dubai or Qatar, resulting in long flights. Maritime links are almost non-existent. He also noted that there are lots of Sri Lankan businessmen wanting and waiting to do business with Seychelles.

Again it is good to note that during his visit there, President Michel did bring up the air link issue during discussions he had with Sri Lankan Minister for Economic Development Basil Rohana Rajapaksa and members of his ministry.

“Air links and maritime trade links between Seychelles and Sri Lanka are critical for the development of our economic cooperation,” President Michel said.

“We have invited SriLankan Airlines to start flying to Seychelles in order to increase trade and travel between our countries. This would increase our volume of imports from Sri Lanka, which has more competitive prices for many commodities,” he added.

Minister Rajapaksa also said work to establish air links between the two countries would start immediately, and this will include discussions between the respective civil aviation authorities and airlines.

As for Mr Mathieu he is not stopping there in his business dealings with Sri Lanka. His company is looking at the possibility of exporting fresh fish and cinnamon quills there.

“The government has opened the door – now it is up to private sector to enter,” President Michel side in an interview after his visit to Sri Lanka.
Seychellois only have to Leve Debrouye!!!

By Marylene Julie