THE FORUM

The Smart Future Forum features insights and thought leadership from our network of policy professionals and development practitioners on topics relating to CSF’s thematic areas. Here you will find articles, reports, essays, op-eds, interviews, and more.

Attracting Good FDI Starts with Designing Good Incentives Regimes

Sri Lanka is on a renewed push to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) following a poor performance in the last decade, post-war. Fiscal incentives regimes have changed from time to time, laws and regulations have been introduced, investment promotions missions have been held in major capitals. Yet, attracting FDI remains a struggle, amidst heightened competition from regional competitor locations. In this interview, former Deloitte consultant Danindu Udalamaththa outlines some key areas for Sri Lanka to focus on and learn from. He draws from his experience advising global clients on the investor side, and argues that to attract good investment, Sri Lanka needs to design good incentives frameworks.

Solving SME Development Challenges:
Looking Beyond Easy Loan Schemes

Like many countries in the region, SME development remains prominently on the policy agenda of successive Sri Lankan governments, development projects, and private sector support programmes over the years. Yet, a thriving, dynamic, and internationally-competitive SME sector remains elusive. Various schemes to address SMEs’ access to finance issues is a popular, and often dominant, part of most SME development initiatives. In this interview with finance and investment specialist Sharini Kulasinghe we explore some new perspectives on solving SME development challenges, going beyond the common wisdom.

SMARTER SUSTAINABILITY:
Shift to Organic Agriculture Must be Staged and Strategic – Agri Expert

Sri Lanka's President announced a policy directive of moving to 100% organic farming this year, and an immediate ban on importing any chemical fertilisers and agro-chemicals. Since the announcement, there has been a fervent debate on the decision, ranging from fears around food security and impacts on exports, to a celebration of the potential to create a unique value for the country. In our first video interview in the 'Smarter Sustainability' series agriculture economist Chatura Rodrigo discusses how to manage the transition better, implications for farmers, and gaps in the policymaking process.

ECONOMICS x ENVIRONMENT:
Are Marine Conservation and Sri Lanka’s Maritime Hub Ambitions Compatible?

In this interview in the 'Economics x Environment' series of Smart Future Forum (SFF), Nishan Perera - Sri Lanka's leading marine ecologist, an avid diver and underwater photographer - shares some vital insights  on. Nishan is a marine ecologist with an interest in coral reef ecology and Marine Protected Area management. He is a co-founder of Blue Resources Trust, a Sri Lankan marine research organization, where he currently heads the coral reef programme.  His recent work has included research on impacts of climate change on coral reefs, small scale fisheries management and supporting Marine Protected Area management in Sri Lanka. He has previously worked with IUCN, Project Seahorse and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership.

SMARTER SUSTAINABILITY:
Sri Lanka Must Use GSP+ for
Smarter Positioning on Sustainability

When Sri Lanka regained the GSP+ trade concessions to the EU, exporters from a range of sectors got a renewed opportunity to compete in this lucrative market. Yet, prospects for future growth will rely on Sri Lanka boosting its sustainability and governance credentials, to position exports more strongly, for the longer term. In this interview in the Smarter Sustainability series, Anisha Rajapakse explores key issues for Sri Lanka in strengthening its positioning as a trusted and preferred sourcing location for EU buyers, using GSP+ and beyond.

GLOBAL VOICES:
Interview with Leonora Milan,
Mexico’s Leading Young Science Communicator

Leonora Milan, a leading science communicator in Mexico and featured prominently in Mexican media, shares her thoughts on the shape of the public debates on science, climate change, environmental issues, and policy in Mexico. She observes that in Mexico people have a newfound interest in scientific topics than a few years ago, but there are still gaps in bridging the science-policy divide. Some 'bright spots' have emerged, however, in training young people in climate change negotiations and breeding new technical advisory on environmental  policy issues. This interview is part of the 'Global Voices' series, which brings to Sri Lanka the views of young professionals from around the world.

SIGNALS OF CHANGE:
Three Emerging Post-Covid Trends for Sri Lanka’s Apparel Sector

Sri Lanka’s apparel industry – a significant export revenue earner and employer – was substantially hit by the pandemic. Aside from the short-term supply and demand shocks, the pandemic accelerated trends that were in motion prior to the crisis, and these provide signals of change and point to the direction in which the Sri Lankan apparel industry needs to head in. Moving from recovery to resilience and a new wave of growth will be shaped by three emerging trends - attracting new investment that drives innovation (in business models and products) and plugs into new supply chains and on focussing on meeting more stringent sustainability and other compliance requirements of buyers and preferences of consumers.

Fiscal Constraints Amidst COVID-19:
Sri Lanka on Red Notice for Tax Reform

Sri Lanka's tax ratio hit an all time low in 2020, with revenue losses caused by the pandemic and steep tax cuts in 2019. The budget deficit reached double digits due to high pandemic related expenditure and fall in revenue. Attempting to revive growth through public investment will be constrained by low tax revenue, and progressive tax reforms are a must to avoid further macroeconomic stress.

Refreshing Growth in Sri Lanka’s Provinces:
Changing the Narrative

For too long provinces outside Sri Lanka’s Western Province have been characterized as ‘lagging regions’, due to their slower growth trajectory, smaller share of national output, and more pronounced weaknesses in development indicators. It's time to change the narrative and see them as 'Secondary Growth Hubs', to transform how all stakeholders engage in partnerships to boost prosperity there - not in terms of how they need to be helped to get out of being ‘lagging’ but rather how they need to be partnered in creating more inclusive economic growth.

Looking Beyond Tariffs to Win in
Export markets: A New Focus for SMEs

Tariffs often take centre stage in discussions around market access for exporters – especially SME exporters. But this view is increasingly out of date. Standards are a new differentiator, even to markets where preferential tariff advantages are not available. Standards compliance should not be seen as a barrier, but as a way for firms to find new sources of competitiveness and branding