Sri Lanka (Ceylon) rightly called “The Pearl of the Indian Ocean” is a stunningly beautiful moderately sized island near the Southern tip of India, known for many specialties from historical times. These include gems of unparalleled beauty, spices, aromatic tea and its warm friendly people.
ANCIENT TRAVELERS’ RECORDS
Placed in its strategic position, on the trade routes from Europe to Asia, this ancient land whose geological history goes back to well over 30 Millennium was able to attract travelers from all over the world from the pre-Christian era onwards. These travelers were spellbound at the spectacular scenic beauty of the country and their testimony to the world on what they saw still remains as the milestones of historical evidence in the unbroken recorded history of the island. Among these early visitors were Marco Polo, Ibanbatuta and more recently Robert Knox.
ANCIENT HISTORY AND ITS LEGACY
As evidenced by the Archeological discoveries, the island’s history goes back to prehistoric times during which Neolithic cultures flourished. Documented history began with the North Indian colonization, which began from 8th century BC. Settlers from South India entered the island from times immemorial inter alia to barter and trade. Some of them settled in the country as did Arabs in coastal area in the subsequent period.
Five Centuries before the birth of Christ this resplendent island had a well ordered civilization in a land throbbing with vitality. The vestiges of ancient civilization including its cities, temples, reservoirs and parks, monasteries and monuments are the living testimony of the character, imagination, culture philosophy and faith of the people of Sri Lanka. The remains of the ancient sluice gates and huge tanks depict some of Sri Lanka’s unique ancient engineering feats at which even the modern engineers marvel. The splendid remains of colossal shrines built from the 3rd Century BC to the 6th Century AD could only be compared with the pyramids of the ancient world. The ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya which was a royal citadel for more than 18 years is one of the loveliest ancient planned cities ever built in Asia. It is no exaggeration to say that the beauty and attractiveness of Sigiriya frescoes cannot be compared with other similar paintings found anywhere else in the ancient world.
ANCIENT GEM TRADE AND FINEST GLOBAL GEM ASSORTMENT
Being a trading centre along the ancient silk route it had thrived on trade in a variety of products such as gems, pearls and ivory. However, among these products it was the colourful and valuable “Gem” which made Sri Lanka the cynosure of all its early visitors. Ancient Chinese visitor Fahien has recorded in saying that “there is a district about 10 square-li which produces the mani jewel” .Even today, after the lapse of thousands of years, it is the only country whose precious gem pits produce a variety of valuable gems such as Blue Sapphires, Rubies, Cat’s eyes, Alexandries, Aquaramarines, Tourmalines, Spinels, Topaz, Garnets, Amethysts and Zircons. Even the Great King Solomon was said to have procured an unmatched Ruby for the famous Queen Sheba from Ceylon. Among the other famous Sri Lankan gems acclaimed for their beauty and value, in recent times, are the 400 carat Blue Sapphire called “Blue Belle” which adorns the British Crown and the beautiful Star Sapphire misnamed the “Star of India” on permanent display in the Museum of Natural History in New York.
TRADE IN COLONIAL PERIOD
After the attraction of gems, it was the “Spicy Breezes of Ceylon Cinnamon” that drew a host of foreign nations one after the other to the Island, from the 12th century, first the Arabs, then the Portuguese, the Dutch and finally the British who made it a profitable colony in their far flung empire. However, in recent times Sri Lanka’s fame has become more conspicuous for its exquisite and highest quality “Ceylon Tea” which is enjoyed by millions of connoisseurs all the world over.
EXPORT HISTORY FROM INDEPENDENCE UP TO 1980s
From the independence to the beginning of 1980s Sri Lanka inherited an export structure based on 03 agricultural crops i.e. tea, rubber and coconut whose twin problems of downward and fluctuating prices impinged on every economic activity and the day to day living standards of the large number of population. However, among these crops, it was more or less the tea crop that directly determined the total foreign exchange earnings. It was against this back drop and the multinational domination of tea market, the country was identified as the “Lipton’s Tea Garden”.
PRESENT EXPORT SITUATION AND FACTORS OF EXPORT DEVELOPMENT
In its evolution from the “Lipton’s Tea Garden” to a modern trading nation, Sri Lanka, now exports more than 3556 products (based on 8 digit export code) to almost every country in the world. The country has considerably diversified its primary export crop base by registering nearly 50% of tea exports as value added products and more than 75% of raw rubber and primary coconut products as manufactured products. This value added process has pervaded to almost every export product and today raw material exports register less than 25% compared with the manufactured and semi-manufactured products.
The above exports scenario is a direct result of some critical factors that were introduced from 1977. These are liberalization of the economy (providing opportunities for the exporters to import inputs, machinery, packing and accessory material needed for export industry, migration of considerable number of Sri Lankan expatriate to Middle East and the European countries (establishing in ethnic food market), provision of substantial garment quota under MFA, introduction of the state of the art and up-to-date foreign technology (for a number of export industries), creation of EDB and the BOI (to provide incentives to exporters and attract foreign investments), increased foreign exposure provided to exporters to explore global market and to participate at foreign trade fairs.
CURRENT CONDUCIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR EXPORTS, INVESTMENT AND TOURISM
The peaceful environment prevailing after the prolong internal war has now removed all the barriers for increase exports and tourists to inundate the country and mingle with friendly and smiling people to enjoy the different climatic zones (whose temperature range from 27 o C in low lands to 10 o C in high lands and annual rainfall varying from 900 mm to 6000mm). The visitors and tourists, who sojourn the island whose recorded number exceeded 430,000 in 2007 are warmly welcomed by these different climatic zones, which provide them a “home away home”. Owing to the highly educated trainable albeit comparatively cheap labour force, it also remains as one of the most attractive investment destination in the Asia Pacific Region.
After the dawn of the much-expected peace, today, Sri Lanka with its 20 million people is poised to transform the land as the unparalleled trade hub of Asia.