Second visit

At the end of the week, I travel for the second time this year to Sri Lanka.

This time I am looking forward to the trip extra. One of the reasons is that the Sweden-Sri Lanka Business Council (where I have been secretary general since 2016) participates in the delegation organized by Business Sweden. It will be the fifth delegation that I have the privilege of representing our council. In the years 2016-2018, we have had two (of which one with the foreign minister) outgoing to Sri Lanka and two incoming (at ministerial level) to Sweden.

Sri Lanka’s fantastic geographical location at the southern tip of India is at the crossroads of the important trade routes connecting South Asia, the Far East and the Pacific with Europe and the Americas. Sri Lanka has become more interesting for both foreign investors and tourists. A number of Swedish companies are currently active in the country and more are being added continuously.

Companies from Sweden and also some of the Swedish companies that have representation in India come to Colombo to participate in the important meetings.

This is the first time in many years that a delegation has been carried out. Sri Lanka has gone through many tough years ranging from terrorist attack in 2019, pandemic and also economic turmoil which turned into a tumultuous political year in 2022. The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine has also had repercussions in Sri Lanka.

The fact that Business Sweden spends time on this delegation is greatly appreciated by those of us who have for many years worked for expanded relations between Sweden and Sri Lanka. It is also very positive that Sweden’s ambassador in New Dehli (side accredited to Colombo) and colleagues choose to be part of many upcoming meetings and will also celebrate Sweden’s national day on site in Colombo. In connection with the national day, attention is drawn to the fact that Sweden and Sri Lanka celebrate 75 years of diplomatic relations this year. It will be nice to meet Swedes living and working in Sri Lanka, but also Sri Lankans who have a connection to our country (business-wise or culturally).

The Swedes who have chosen to work abroad contribute directly or indirectly to strengthening our welfare but also to building the brand Sweden. Something that we at home in Sweden should be grateful for. Sweden has a good reputation in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is in many aspects located in the shadow of India and, as described above, has undergone turbulent years. Many of us also remember the tsunami in 2004, but above all the long civil war that ended 15 years ago. The war, which was the reason why I came to Sri Lanka almost 20 years ago, should not be forgotten, but we try to look forward together with our Sri Lankan friends.

Sweden and Sri Lanka’s relations go back a long way. One of Linné’s disciples, Thunberg, passed through Ceylon in 1777 and explorer Nils Mattsson Kiöping was there as early as 1652, but we usually talk about Swedish companies and important aid projects, for example the Kotmale power plant dam that was built by SKANSKA and financed by SIDA.
Other company names that we like to mention are Trelleborg, Jacobi Carbon, TailorStore, Blåkläder, H&M, IFS, Cambio Software. All are well-known brands that are and have been active in Sri Lanka. Outside of Colombo, a completely new district is emerging, Port City, that Swedish SWECO developed a master plan for it may not be known, but it shows that Swedish companies can do business in Sri Lanka.

Your breakfast tea may come from Sri Lanka or if you buy coconut milk at ICA, it often comes from Sri Lanka. Of course you use the healthy and genuine cinnamon ”Ceylon Cinnamon” for the cinnamon buns, right?
Now that the sailing season is in full swing at home in Sweden, it is worth mentioning NorthSails whose products are sewn in Sri Lanka. Many Swedish companies cooperate with the Sri Lankan textile industry. A good example is the company Frank Dandy, which chose to move parts of its production from China to Sri Lanka. Industrilås in Nässjö has been operating a factory in the country for many years and can thus better cover markets in the Middle East and South Asia.

Approximately 150 Swedish companies today have direct or indirect IT expertise from Sri Lanka. In addition to this, there are around 20 companies on site in Colombo with their own development centers and companies. The largest is IFS with almost 2,500 employees, but there is, for example, a subsidiary of SoftOneGroup and more Swedish companies are added every year. Companies that choose outsourcing usually seek to gain access to more competence but also the comparative advantages that working across national borders and meeting other cultures entails. Most companies need to be more or less available around the clock, which is why development centers in other time zones are an advantage. For those companies that want to approach the fast-growing Asian market, Sri Lanka is a good place to start the export journey.

Quality products from Sri Lanka have been on the Swedish market for a long time, but there are new ones to explore for those interested in imports. Sri Lanka welcomes foreign investment and through improving relations with the EU, several trade barriers have been reduced. There are also opportunities to sell goods and services there. One example is Nordaq, whose solution for offering water in a sustainable way has started to find its way into hotels. Or why not buy into a company – Swedish EQT recently announced that they bought IT company WS02, which was founded in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is close to and several international airlines land daily at Colombo airport. This, in combination with many fine hotels throughout the country, means that both business travelers and tourists enjoy themselves. What’s extra funny is that several of them have Swedish managers.

I conclude by stating that the best way to learn about a country is through literature and food. A tip for summer reading is Shehan Karunatilaka, who was awarded the Booker Prize 2022 for ”Maali Almeida’s seven moons” (Brombergs). Unfortunately, there are few restaurants that serve food from Sri Lanka, but the newly opened Taste of Sri Lanka satisfies the worst hunger for those of us who live in Stockholm

Pleasant summer!
Leif I Ohlson