Usually, what gets discussed on TV talk shows are big political issues. Somewhat unusually, the Derana Aluth Parlimenthuva Program focused on economic issues yesterday. My expectation was that it would be on the big news stories: oil tanks, India, growth rates, etc.
I talked about the recently gained GSP Plus concession. This allows Sri Lankan firms to export some 6000 products into the EU, duty free. The concession would mean little unless our firms quickly expanded capacity and actively sought buyers within the EU. Another panelist went further, stating that the government was not doing enough to facilitate the participation of Sri Lankan producers in export value chains.
Government support and LIRNEasia work in global agricultural value chains
There is nothing like a concrete illustration. So, I described what is actually going on in export agriculture at this time. Fruit and vegetable exporters want to ensure that their shipments are compliant with EU good agricultural practice (GAP) standards. They reached out to LIRNEasia for support, and we are also now playing a small role in the overall effort. Our researchers are developing smartphone-based means to give farmers authoritative information when and where they need it. The Department of Agriculture is fully behind this effort. Its National Agribusiness Council has 80 extension officers working with farmers who are part of the European value chain.
I also described the World Bank funded USD 125 million agricultural modernization project. Here, those engaged in export agriculture can avail of 50 percent matching funds to upgrade processing technology so that they can better participate in export value chains.
Or to put it in more academic terms, as I did in a recent presentation:
4.0 Agriculture, where 27 percent of the workforce produces a mere 7.1 percent of the GDP requires serious attention. The primary focus must be on supporting the initiatives by private firms to increase high-value fruit and vegetable exports that are already underway. This will result in the improvement of standards throughout the sector and will of course improve the earnings of the smallholders now connected to export supply chains. Good agricultural practices including low/no use of chemicals and traceability will increasingly define what is acceptable in export markets. Our trade policies must on one hand strive to prevent the use of phyto-sanitary rules as non-tariff barriers. On the other hand, we need to encourage good agricultural practices among suppliers.