Engaging Overseas Sri Lankans to Facilitate Export Diversification

Abstract:

Insufficient export diversification is a binding constraint to economic growth in Sri Lanka

  • The Harvard CID growth diagnostic found that with wages in traditional export sectors now below average Sri Lankan wages, new higher-wage export industries are required

Overseas Sri Lankans (OSL) have the potential to create new export industries in Sri Lanka

  • Diasporas were involved in the export-led development of India, Taiwan, and China by bringing industry knowhow and market connections to their home countries
  • There are large, well-educated OSL communities living in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia that have the industry knowhow to assist in export-led growth in Sri Lanka

OSL can have the biggest impact on diversifying exports if they return to start firms in new export industries rather than working with firms while based overseas

  • OSL can play a useful role connecting the existent Sri Lankan IT export sector to overseas markets, but they cannot start firms in new export industries from abroad
  • If OSL return to start firms they can “seed” a new export industry that grows organically through the diffusion of knowhow
  • The pharmaceutical sector is an example of an industry with high potential to be “seeded” by returning OSL entrepreneurs

Preliminary policy recommendations focus on removing barriers and catalyzing latent motivations to facilitate OSL return entrepreneurship:

  • The Department for Immigration and Emigration should continue to ease border processes for OSL through dual citizenship and the OSL lifetime resident visa
  • The Board of Investment should orient part of its “one-stop-shop” to dealing specifically with OSL issues
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should utilize its diplomatic network to engage potential OSL entrepreneurs to catalyze latent motivations to return

*This is an edited version of a Policy Analysis written in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master in Public Administration in International Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University