“UK’s Cleveland Bridge Ltd., the well-known global tech engineering company, has won a contract to build 210 permanent steel bridges in Si Lanka. This infrastructure project is partly funded with a loan of £ 35 million pounds ($ 58.4 million),” announced British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka John Rankin. Rankin was apprising Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen at the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Colombo, during a courtesy call.
“The agreement will be finalised and inked shortly. The British Government is also pleased to have been able to support the Sangupiddy Bridge project,” Rankin said.
Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd., a subsidiary of the Saudi-owned Al-Rushaid Group of Companies, is a global leader in technology-based engineering, construction and steel fabrication services.
Cleveland Bridge, of Sydney Harbour Bridge fame, is also the firm behind such large-scale projects as London’s Canary Wharf, M74 Motorway bridges, Jiangyin Yangtze River Bridge (China), Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre and Britain’s Wembley National Stadium. Cleveland Bridge will build steel bridges of six to 30 metre lengths around the country.
The Sangupiddy Bridge connects the Jaffna peninsula with the rest of the island at Pooneryn and was opened in January 2011. It was built by another British engineering firm, Mabey & Johnson of the UK (presently Mabey Bridge Ltd.).
“Our trade relations too are now stronger,” Rankin added.
Minister Bathiudeen said: “We are highly appreciative of the British Government for the continuous support given to us in many of our development efforts. Our bilateral trade relations too have improved as exports from both economies to each other show a rise in 2011. I invite more UK investors to Sri Lanka to capitalise on our new economic upswing thanks to the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.”
Rankin, responding to Bathiudeen, said: “Sri Lanka’s Ease of Doing Business is highest in the South Asian region. So are the literacy and IT skills here. Therefore, Sri Lanka is a good investment destination for British firms, including IT firms. The London Stock Exchange (by acquiring Millennium IT), and Aopena, the British firm specialising in monetising cloud computing, have already ventured into Sri Lanka.”
Commenting on the UK’s increasing investment interest in Sri Lanka, Rankin said: “We also want to enhance UK’s Diaspora investments in Sri Lanka. I have already formed a three-man team at the Colombo High Commission for British investment facilitation to Sri Lanka. I also strongly feel that it would help international investors, including the British, if Sri Lanka gives a longer period of notice with regard to the international tenders for projects announced in Sri Lanka. Also, we wish to see a one-stop-shop operation by Sri Lanka for our investors so that it will help better engagement with regard to our Sri Lankan investments.”
According to the Department of Commerce of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka-UK bilateral trade has increased threefold over the last decade, making UK the number one trading partner in the European Union. The UK has also continued to maintain its position as the leading investor in Sri Lanka from among the EU countries.
Interestingly, the trade balance is in Sri Lanka’s favour. The value of total trade between the two countries stood at US$ 1414.53 m in 2011, an increase by 9% over 2010. Exports from UK to Sri Lanka rose by 20% in 2011 while exports to UK from Sri Lanka rose by 14%.
Articles of apparel and clothing accessories have figured prominently among Sri Lanka’s exports to the UK market, which absorbed 29% of knitted garments and 25% of woven garments of Lanka’s total exports to the world in 2009, ranking as the second largest export market for apparel after the US.
The value of apparel exports was almost 82% of overall imports into the UK from Sri Lanka. Other important export items from Sri Lanka to the UK are bicycles, seafood, tea, rubber gloves, rubber tyres, food preparations, brooms and brushes, tobacco, jewellery, rubber products, gems and jewellery, coir products, ceramics, fruits and vegetables and toys and machine parts.
One of the most significant recent developments is the growth reported in export of fresh and frozen fish from Sri Lanka to the UK, which has risen by 3.5% in 2010 over 2009. Over 100 British firms – amongst them HSBC, Unilever, Standard Chartered Bank, Aviva, De La Rue (cash note printing), LSE, Cleveland Bridge and Aopena – are now operating in Sri Lanka.
Revealing a soft spot for Pure Ceylon Tea, Rankin, who enthusiastically reached out for the plain black tea being served, said: “Your tea is great. I am a big fan of Sri Lanka tea. I and my mom drink nothing but Pure Ceylon Tea.”