‘The gateway to South Asia’: Singapore businesses set up shop in Sri Lanka
With more than 40 years in Sri Lanka, Singapore brand Prima is a household name in the country. The company, which entered the country in 1977, started out as a flour mill but has since grown from strength to strength, expanding into baking industry training, feed milling, commercial poultry farming and even IT services. Today, it is one of Sri Lanka's largest foreign investors.
When it first tried to make inroads into the country, Prima's group general manager for Sri Lanka Tan Beng Chuan recalled that people felt it was a risky venture. We were the first one from Singapore to come in," he said, explaining how they had entered at a time when the country's economic policies were becoming more open.
"We had already been supplying flour to the country, and we knew the Sri Lanka market for a long time.
"Through this time, we knew the government has never defaulted on their commitment."
Over the years, the 71-year-old Mr Tan has borne witness to Sri Lanka's development – and the emerging opportunities the country offers for Singapore companies. "There are many more skyscrapers now, and construction going on in the last few years," he said. "It is very much the same as in Singapore, in the old days."
Over the years, more Singapore companies have been venturing into Sri Lanka. Today, there are about 90 Singapore companies in the country.
An upcoming Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which was signed by Singapore and Sri Lanka over the course of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's official visit to Sri Lanka from Monday (Jan 22) to Wednesday, is a boon for these companies, and an encouraging development for those looking to enter.
A GATEWAY TO THE REST OF SOUTH ASIA
When looking to expand its anchor brand PastaMania into the South Asia region, Singapore-based investment company Commonwealth Capital opted to open its flagship outlet in Sri Lanka's commercial capital Colombo.
Describing the country as the "gateway to South Asia", the company's executive director of international business Wilson Lim explained that Sri Lanka's per capita income is double that of India and triple of Bangladesh.
"With a population of more than 1 million people, Colombo also serves as a very good test bed for us to bring in our concepts and acclimatise our brand before expanding into the larger South Asian nations," he added. "
"It helps us to understand the cultural nuances of the South Asian countries, and localise the menu to get it right."
The same goes for the founder of the Star Anise Boutique Hotel Vigneswaran Mohan, who saw a niche in the Sri Lankan market for accommodation catering to luxury backpackers.
"When I came here six years back, I saw there were bunk beds catering to the low-end backpackers, and the high-end hotels," he explained. "This concept was doing quite well in Singapore, so I thought, why not?"
Established in 2016, his capsule hotel can accommodate up to 44 guests and boasts clean toilets and comfortable beds.
Together with his Sri Lankan partner, he hopes to set up two more hotels, a travel agency and a "Singapore-style hospitality corporate training institute".
"Sri Lanka is booming, and there are a lot of opportunities here to try out a new industry," he said, pointing out that infrastructure in the country has improved significantly since the end of the civil war in 2009.
"It's strategically located between Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and in a way, it reflects South Asia generally, but with less red tape," he added. "So if you want to do something in India, try it in Sri Lanka."
WORKING AROUND THE CHALLENGES
The companies also highlighted the challenges they faced.
Commonwealth Capital's Mr Lim pointed out the high tariffs and copious amount of documentation required to import food items into Sri Lanka.
"What is in the food, do you have this test report ... so you really need to have strong local partners who can help smoothen the whole process." To that end, Mr Lim has been working around the challenges by looking at what ingredients can be sourced locally.
"We are looking at leveraging on local ingredients, vis-a-vis proprietary items like pasta and tomato sauce," he said.
"Sri Lanka is very rich in seafood items, so why can't we work on a pasta that's related to say, Sri Lankan crabs?" Meanwhile, Star Anise's Mr Vigneswaran described getting skilled labour as a "very big problem", recounting how, three months after he opened, he had to fire his entire housekeeping staff when he caught them stealing from the guests.
He explained: "Quite a bit of the Sri Lankan population is overseas, and people here aren't fully trained, especially in the hospitality industry.
"That's why we want to set up the institute to train people to work at different levels, whether it's hospitality, tourism, office or admin."
Nonetheless, the companies are looking forward to the upcoming signing of the FTA.
"Singapore businesses will be at an advantage compared to others," said Star Anise's Mr Vigneswaran. "The Chinese and Indians are also here. If we have an FTA, Singapore businesses can come in, and there's also an incentive for local businesses to work with them." "From the perspective of reducing taxation, customs duties and tariffs for our food items coming into
Sri Lanka, that's going to be highly beneficial for us," added Commonwealth Capital's Mr Lim.
- UNP vows to protect President won’t let jo own him
- UNPers to stand by Ranil
- Range Bandara quits as UNP Anamaduwa Organizer
- Appointment of 25% women to LG bodies Decision today Polls Chief
- Southeast Asia’s shifting sands of terrorism
- Katchatheevu Church Feast Sinhala mass for the first time 13,000 to land on island
- No-Faith against Ranil not needed – Gammanpila
- Civil society orgs demand referendum Want Executive Presidency abolished
- Kandiah Neelakandan no more
- Donation of necklace to Temple of the Tooth Principal warned CP Edu Minister
- Army recruits 50 Tamil youths Rehabilitated ex-LTTE cadres too
- Kalmunai Beach Mosque 196th Flag hoisting ceremony held
- NPC Women’s Affairs meeting
- Trump’s Immigration Plan: Sound Start for Compromise
- Congo justifies oil exploration in national parks
- To discuss premiership issue PM and Speaker meet Prez UNP claims problem solved
- City Coroner complains to Fort Magistrate Call to probe death of Bellanwila Thera Monk was moved from CSGTH against medical advice
- Will Transitional Justice wither? Int’l community in quandary over LG polls results
- INTERPOL REFUSES TO DELIVER SUMMONS TO MAHENDRAN ARREST WARRANT TO BE SOUGHT AFTER MARCH 8 IF…
- Govt now trying to postpone PC polls
- President has not consulted me yet – AG
- Govt brought in 19A to block Rajapaksas We also can change 19A – Basil
- November 2012 Welikada Prison Massacre Second eyewitness ready to come forward
- President pressed to find suitable PM Political crisis continues
- South China Sea Unmanned vessels and future operations
- Federer on top of the world
- Man Utd into Cup quarters
- Cavani, Neymar key as PSG rebound from Madrid gloom
- Barca grind out victory before Chelsea trip
- Kvitova powers through to Qatar final
- ISAC 2018 23 schools will participate
- ‘Singer Cup’ Under-19 Schools Cricket Sumanasinghe scores second ton
- Packeer Ali to be appointed Head Coach
- England win but Munro ensures New Zealand in final
- Premier League Super 8 round NCC and Ports Authority CC win
- Sri Lankans win singles and doubles titles
- National Cross Country Championship 2018 Samantha and Nilani win Both athletes had to go through ridiculous bureaucratic red tape after returning to SL with Gold medals Officials show their vested interests instead of flexibility for International medal winners
- Premier League Club Cricket Tier ‘A’ Chilaw Marians CC emerge champions
- ‘Singer Cup’ Under-19 Schools Cricket Kamindu Mendis scores fourth ton
- Unified Korean team lose again despite goalie heroics
- Loyola - Christ King Inaugural ‘Battle of Friends’ Big match ends in a draw
- Smith looks forward to pace challenge
- Mendis powers Sri Lanka to 210-4
- Mendis drives Sri Lanka to T20 series sweep
- Premier League ‘Tier ‘B’ Negombo CC emerge champions
- Global Independent Audit Regulators meet in Colombo
- Shares end the week positive
- Thailand to seek approval for FTA with Sri Lanka
- Rupee stabilizes despite political instability
- SL to purchase 12 train engines for upcountry line
- UK retail sales show weak growth despite gym wear boost
- Royal Mint gets first woman boss in 1,100 years
- CBSL prints Rs 606M
- Stocks closed mixed on the day Sharply higher for the week
- Allowing Financial Technology Will Reduce Borrowing Costs
- CSSL offers support for tech startups
- Ceylinco General Insurance records excellent results in 2017
- CA Sri Lanka Business Plan Competition 2018 kicks off this month
- HNB Grameen Finance Limited signs MoU with DIMO
- Raigam launches ‘DeveniBatha – Bundi Full’ instant rice noodle
- SL - high potential market for Database Security: Oracle
- Jack Ma’s secrets, hiring women for the profits and rising early
- Trumps Solutions brings the digital force to advertising with VLT
- Inaugural leadership programme conducted for students of Olcott Schools
- Fashion Bug bags Gold Award for Best Key Account Partner from Triumph
- Subramanian Swamy’s love-hate relationship with Sri Lanka
- Tea, haircuts and fish bones Letting the light into Pakistan
- REVISITING SRI LANKA’S FOREIGN POLICY
- Howlers that wreck language
- Pursuing Peace The UN’s lack of accountability
- Give women more time to give birth, make choices - WHO
- Ask “Dr. Love”: mobile app teaches Congolese youth about safe sex
- Bulgaria rejects treaty to combat violence against women
- Progress on global goals ‘unacceptably slow’ for women, says UN
- The Great American Buddhist Leader
- President and PM are responsible for the election results
- Basil says…Await the return of ‘Spiritual Leader’ MR
- Rajapaksas’ Presidential hopeful is Gota
- Sins of the past Govt cannot be forgotten- Anura Kumara
- Law and order is quite weak
- Accomplice to the crime Our own indifference
- UK flower farm suspected of enslaving migrants
- Costly Renovation
- REV. PROF BELLANWILA WIMALARATANA THERA
- Why Masses Brought Victory to Past President
- White Sapphire absorbs the power of Venus
- Partial eclipse that occurred on Feb 16
- Effects of Sun in Aquarius
- Some recent impressions
- Bandula Nanayakkarawasam: From Galle to the world
- Pauline Kael: The critic wore cowboy boots
- Pauline Kael: The critic wore cow boy boots
- “Hail, Caesar!” Silliness as a virtue
- Notes on history: The thinkers and the doers
- Reflections on a nation of non-readers
- The Disaster Artist: The (un)making of a movie
- Kite Surfing Lanka Kalpitiya An experience of a lifetime
- Ella and mini Adam’s Peak
- A cave of history -Ravana Cave
- Never say never to anything!
- What’s In My Bag I want to carry my dog Ricky Ruchira
- Indian Elegance Raaya Clothing & Accessories
- Election promises that took people for a ride
- 7 killed in Florida school shooting by former student: sheriff
- Man with moustache who went to Rajarata a thousand times in a ramshackle Jeep