The Amcham and the U.S. Embassy brought together business leaders from leading corporations, representatives of regional Chambers of Commerce and USAID for a roundtable discussion with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert O. Blake. The companies which were represented were Hayleys PLC, Chemical Industries (Colombo) PLC, Hatton National Bank, Brandix Lanka Ltd, Daya Group of Companies and Aitken Spence PLC. The Business for Peace Alliance of Regional Chambers of Commerce, the American Chamber of Commerce in Sri Lanka and USAID's Connecting Regional Economies (CORE) Project also participated.
The business and chamber leaders told Assistant Secretary Blake that there have been many improvements in the Eastern region of Sri Lanka since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2007. Because there are fewer security checkpoints, both trade and personal transportation have improved. In addition, the roads in the East have shown a dramatic improvement in the last two years. The business leaders also explained how the East has great potential in agriculture, fisheries, tourism, and other areas. However, they said, the North, which was just freed from LTTE control in 2009, is not yet as ready for investment as the East. Nevertheless, the fishing industry has begun to rebound since the restrictions on fishing have been lifted and the North has great potential for tourism
The business leaders agreed that there are still a number of challenges to increased economic growth in the East and North. Worker productivity is low for agricultural production and industrial production, so there needs to be a significant training program, especially vocational training, to prepare for emerging economic opportunities. There is also a great shortage of water supply for agricultural production. The East needs better transportation infrastructure to bring workers to manufacturing plants. Since the East has great agricultural potential, including in dairy production, there is a great need for a cold storage supply chain to bring fresh goods to Colombo and other markets. The East could also benefit from additional investment to bring technology transfer and new economic opportunities.
Finally, Assistant Secretary Blake and the business leaders discussed how the diaspora could assist with reconstruction in the North and East, since its members have both resources and skills. One possibility would be to involve the diaspora in public private partnerships to provide additional educational opportunities in the East and North.