In a move to support the expansion of trade and business relations between Sri Lanka and Qatar, Qatari-based Doha Bank set up a representative office in Colombo on Thursday. The unit in Colombo will operate as a Trade Facilitation Bank providing market information services and financial support for entrepreneurs and investors. It is the first Middle Eastern bank to set up an office in Sri Lanka.
Dr. R. Seetharaman Pic: Sulochana Gamage
Doha Bank has been looking at the opportunities in Sri Lanka for a while and was impressed by the government’s dynamic economic proposals listed out in Vision 2025. Chief Executive Officer of Doha Bank, Dr. R. Seetharaman says Sri Lanka is a great opportunity for the Gulf. Although the two countries are already engaged in trade and employment activities, the full potential has not been reached.
“This gives an opening for us to showcase our strengths,” the CEO told the Business Observer in an interview. He was in Colombo last week to launch the Doha Bank’s representative office.
During his stay in Colombo, Dr. Seetharaman met Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Central Bank Governor, Dr. Indrajith Coomaraswamy and the representatives of the business community at a reception. Through Doha Bank’s presence in Colombo, the Qatari and Sri Lankan entrepreneurs and corporate leaders will get the opportunity to explore more business and investment possibilities rather easily and conveniently. “Our primary aim is to facilitate trade and investments between the two countries. We are here to facilitate trade and build ventures.” Dr. Seetharaman says the most successful business ventures between the two countries can be built on three main areas – aviation, energy and food security.
“Sri Lanka is strategic in terms of location – it is a great advantage to be a business hub. But for Sri Lanka to create an aviation hub, an investment partnership is required. Gulf’s airlines are quite strong financially and if an opportunity is created for an aviation hub in the Indian Ocean through Sri Lanka, it will be a great opportunity for Qatar,” he said.
Talking about the openings in the food security sector, Dr. Seetharaman said, Sri Lanka and Qatar can come together in joint ventures in the food processing and agriculture fields.
“If there are such initiatives, Sri Lanka can play a bigger role to step up the production. At present, Qatar imports banana, pepper and vegetables from Sri Lanka – but the stocks are quite limited. In terms of investments in this area, we can look at joint ventures to be set up in Qatar.”
Qatar is also interested in infrastructure creation – in the areas of tourism/hotels and hospitals. Dr. Seetharaman said during a visit by the President of Sri Lanka last year, they spoke about these business opportunities.
As far as the energy security is concerned, Qatar Petroleum and Sri Lanka can become partners since Sri Lanka has to scale up the sustainable energy flow.
|Chief Executive Officer of Doha Bank, Dr. R. Seetharaman and Chief Representative Doha Bank Colombo, Eranda Weerakoon speak to the media in Colombo Pic Sudath Malaweera|
“On the other hand Qatar has a very large energy base. At present Bangladesh imports liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar. Sri Lanka can also import LNG from Qatar. And we can have energy supply on a long term process like Qatar is doing with India since 2004 and China since 2011.
In this process, we can look at setting up LNG terminals and working with gas companies in Sri Lanka. In our capacity, we are ready to connect business communities to reach their business goals,” he said.
Dr. Seetharaman was keen to see Lankan businesses in Qatar as well. “We can invite Sri Lankan businesses to set up their infrastructure in Qatar. Then the raw material can come from Sri Lanka, equity can come from Qatar Development Bank and debt from other financial institutions. Doing business in Qatar is easy,” he assured, saying that ‘discussions are being held to set up Qatar-Sri Lanka Business Council’.
Talking about bringing in investments to Sri Lanka, he said, the island’s investment framework is quite efficient and it is also quite competitive to do business in Sri Lanka given the tax benefits and other facilities to foreign investors.
“So I do not see why we cannot attract investors to Sri Lanka,” he said adding, “Sri Lanka has all the structural strengths and location advantage to scale up its growth.
It has to move towards making it easy to do business in the location. Market liberalisation is already in – but I believe, it can be further expanded creating more jobs thereby strengthening fiscal position.” Sri Lanka has enjoyed close ties with Qatar with over 140,000 Sri Lankan working in Qatar. Sri Lanka’s imports from Qatar have primarily been polymers of ethylene. Sri Lanka is also becoming a preferred destination for Qatari travellers.
Concluding his views, Dr. Seetharaman said Sri Lanka is a place to do business. “We recognise Sri Lanka as an important opportunity for us. We can promote further investments.
I would like to work closely and together with the business community here and build this partnership and the banking and finance sector a strong one.”
Doha Bank was incorporated in March 1979 as a Qatari public shareholding company under Emiri Decree and operates under a banking license issued by the Qatar Central Bank. The management of the bank believes that financial institutions in Sri Lanka will be better served with the opening of their office in Colombo.
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