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Director General of the Department of Trade and Investment Policy Mr. K.A. Vimalenthirarajah, Controller General of the Department of Import-Export Control Ms. Upulmalee Premathilaka, honored guests and esteemed colleagues, including guests from outside Sri Lanka including Singapore, Philippines, Maldives, and Malaysia.

I am so glad to be with you this morning at the first-ever Sri Lanka Strategic Trade Forum.  It is wonderful to see so many people gathered to discuss this important topic.  I want to thank the Sri Lanka Department of Import and Export Control for co-hosting this event.  I commend the Department’s dedication to advancing trade security through improved licensing systems, robust interagency coordination and international cooperation.  The U.S. government is proud to support those efforts.  I thank the Controller General for her partnership in this event, and also Sarah Welsh our EXBS Director’s dedication.  Just yesterday, I delivered another speech down the hall from this room at a training event that the State Department is sponsoring on cybersecurity at ports, including colleagues from Thailand and India.  Why does the U.S. care about these issues? We believe in the great potential of strategic trade as a driver for economic growth, in Sri Lanka and the region.  So whether it’s to secure infrastructure and ports or promote robust trade, we are here to work alongside you.

You will hear this morning from experienced practitioners from Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines who have traveled to Colombo to share their expertise on strategic trade management.  The agencies they represent are regional leaders in this field and they have a strong commitment to advancing international cooperation.  Every year, the Singapore Joint Industry Outreach Seminar draws hundreds of business professionals to learn about the latest regulations.  In 2023, Malaysia hosted the Malaysia Strategic Trade Summit with attendees from more than 25 countries.  Sri Lanka attended as an observer at both those events.  And this September, the Philippines will welcome Southeast Asia and the world to Manila for the Philippines Strategic Trade Management Summit.  My team at the Embassy was inspired by those events to organize this national forum, in cooperation with the Government of Sri Lanka and key private-sector partners, right here in Sri Lanka for the first time.

I want to extend sincere gratitude to our guests from Southeast Asia for giving so generously of their time to tell their stories and share lessons learned for the benefit of Sri Lanka.  I have spent many wonderful years of my career in Southeast Asia, from Vietnam to Thailand to Cambodia, so I am particularly pleased to welcome you today. I believe there are strong synergies across Southeast and South Asia and we want to strengthen those connections and trade across the greater Indo Pacific region.

The experience from Southeast Asia demonstrates that strong and effective controls on the transfer of strategic goods do not suppress trade and investment.  Quite the opposite.  Research shows that being serious about protecting sensitive goods sends a positive signal and corresponds with increases in foreign direct investment.  Just a couple of weeks ago, there was an announcement that a $7.8 billion-dollar silicon wafer factory will be built in Singapore.  We want those types of investments to flow to Sri Lanka as well, and the experts here can help show the way.

The topic of strategic trade management can be quite technical.  And you may be interested in learning about different categories of advanced software and hardware components, strategic metals, emerging technologies, and even artificial intelligence.

But this issue is about striking the right balance between trade facilitation and trade security.  In a free, transparent, and secure trading environment, legitimate businesses can thrive, and illicit actors cannot.  It’s about attracting the right kind of businesses that can help countries thrive. And building that free and secure trading environment can be a strong competitive advantage. That’s why, beyond this strategic trade forum and yesterday’s port cybersecurity training, we’ve dedicated over a half a billion dollars in financing to the West Container Terminal through the Development Finance Corporation.  The private sector should be allowed to be the engines to drive growth.

As Sri Lanka recovers, you are working not only to achieve short-term economic benchmarks but to formulate long-term strategies for how to increase productivity and add more value to the global economy.  Just today we heard Sri Lanka is ready to sign in Paris an MOU on its debt restructuring with bilateral creditors. That’s a positive step.  With continued commitment to reforms, building regulatory frameworks, liberalizing the shipping sector even more, focusing on good governance and transparency, recovery can be sustainable and real.

As you know, there are proposals to further integrate trade with Southeast Asian countries and the greater Indo-Pacific region.  If those linkages come to fruition, Sri Lanka will have increased opportunities but also increased responsibilities.  Now is the time to build systems that can manage security risk and strengthen compliance practices. I believe in the potential of Sri Lanka and the region as it continues to expand trade and build relationships.  I hope this event will help reinforce that.  Thank you.

Thank you once again to everyone involved.  The United States is proud to support this initiative and we look forward to the continued progress we will surely achieve together.

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