President, Ranil Wickremesinghe, our esteemed Chief Guest, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia Former Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission of the Republic of India, Mr. Bingumal Thewathanthri, Deputy Vice Chairman of the Ceylon Chamber and Summit Chairman, Members of the Board of the Ceylon Chamber, Conference Resource persons, participants –

Ladies and gentlemen - Good evening!

I take great pleasure in welcoming you to the flagship event of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce – the Sri Lanka Economic Summit 2023. I would like to extend a warm welcome to our Chief Guest President Ranil Wickremesinghe. Thank you, Mr. President, for accepting our invitation to grace this occasion. I also warmly welcome our keynote speaker Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

The Sri Lanka Economic Summit is one of the most anticipated economic events on the corporate calendar, and it is our privilege to continue to host this event for the 23rd consecutive year since its commencement in 2000. This year the summit is even more relevant given the present juncture of the year.

We could term 2023 as a year of stabilization with decline in inflation, interest rates, appreciation of the rupee and progress in the fiscal and monetary reforms. However, stabilization has often been the easy part for Sri Lanka. We have repeatedly failed to see the other complimenting reforms that would sustain the stabilization of the economy. Hence 2024 is a pivotal year. We just saw the presentation of the National Budget which aims to balance the fiscal targets and the need for developments and welfare for the public. This targets to be carefully implemented alongside the reform measures.

Given the status of the economy, the summit is aptly themed in two parts – Sustain Reform – Accelerate Growth. The summit aims to discuss the crucial elements of the reform process such as SOE reform while also discussing solutions to get growth back on track. As the private sector, we cannot be happy with an economy growing under 3%, we need it to expand by 4-5% at least annually to create new jobs and innovate. The summit will hear case studies from countries like Vietnam where the reforms of the Government ran in parallel to the entrepreneurship and growth ambitions of companies, in particular to export.

What has failed to implement the reforms need is a lack of consensus amongst political parties, civil society, unions, private sector and the public on the reform measures. For example, measures in the past such as SOE reform have been met with stiff opposition, and we have not take the required changes and as consequence we are this this point. As a Chamber we aim to drive forward a consensus in our policy advocacy work, speaking to various political groups, unions, civil society and think-tank. You will see this in the summit as with the last session focusing on achieving this national consensus. Here we will see key topics such as corruption and governance addressed as well.

The Ceylon Chamber has brought together a formidable lineup of over 25 renowned international and national experts, complemented by high-level representatives from government bodies, multinational agencies, finance, consulting, and leading think-tanks to name a few. We have tried as much as possible to bring in foreign speaker that have experience in implementing difficult reform so that we can understand how our reform program should be implemented. We thank them all for taking time off their schedules to share their knowledge and expertise with our participants.

Sri Lanka is at a crucial point in its economic development trajectory. There are difficult decisions to be made, and the steps taken now by the government and private sector will determine how we emerge from our current challenges. We need to complement the tax reform with other structural reform related to trade, investment and ease of doing business.

Mr. President – we appreciate the efforts in the last 16 months or so to stabilize the economy. As we engage in healthy debate, advocate for necessary change, and call for accountability, we do so bolstered by the knowledge that while we may travel different paths, the destination remains the same – that of economic growth and prosperity to the people.

I once again thank our Chief Guest President Wickremesinghe and our keynote speaker Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who we will have the opportunity to hear from later this evening.

I would also like to thank the Conference Chair and Committee for their guidance and the Chamber team who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the success of this event attending to all administrative matters relating to this event despite many challenges.

I wish the summit all success and hope the outcome of the sessions will drive meaningful policy outcomes in unlocking the growth that economy requires. I hope the summit will inspire the private and public sector officials to be collective actors of change and become reform champions and agents that our future so desire us to be!

Thank you!