Chairman's Address - Mr. Suren Abeysekera

13th August 2020

Distinguished past Chairmen, Vice Chairmen, honorary member, executive committee members, members of the council, ladies and gentlemen. At the outset, let me thank the executive committee of the Sri Lanka Shippers' Council for placing their trust and confidence both in me and my 2 vice chairmen Russell and Imalka to carry on the baton for yet another year. This year we celebrate a momentous milestone of the council - the 50th AGM. But due to the current situation in the country, had to conduct this important AGM virtually considering the safety and wellbeing of the members.

Mr. Suren Abeysekera When I took up the challenge to pen down these few thoughts for today, I was in a dilemma on what I should present to the learned audience. That is, whether to be optimistic and pray my thoughts would come to pass or be cynical and present the criticality of the situation we are in currently. I think any right-thinking individual would agree with me that the last 12 months would have been one of the most challenging periods our generation ever had to face. Starting from the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombing where most of the industries had to virtually restart their activities giving once again prominence to security owing to the resurrection of terrorism, to living through another election and having to adjust to a new regime/ new policy and finally battered by the infamous disease Corona virus Covid-19 where businesses were badly hit and are still struggling to survive. I feel it would have been merely impossible for any form of organization to be prepared with a risk management cum mitigation plan for the myriad of incidents we faced during the last year and as a result most had to or having to undergo considerable change in the way they do business.

As a council, we too had to face immense challenges having to quickly adopt to ever changing situations in our effort to support importers and exporters of this country during this period. By all means, we are not yet over the horizon and sometimes feel as if we are chasing a mirage that never ends.

Nevertheless, during the year, the council lobbied with almost all stakeholders connected to international trade to safeguard the interest of shippers in the Island. From actively participating in Sri Lanka Customs initiatives such as trade re-registration process, Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) program and Scanning of import containers in Colombo port to sharing valuable information/ feedback on Sri Lanka Trade Information Portal with Department of Commerce, the council has made strong representation in numerous discussions and workshops providing shippers' point of view to boarder agencies. Another important workstream the council worked on during the past year was the implementation of IMO 2020 global low Sulphur fuel cap. Here, the council shared invaluable information with its membership on how to benchmark rate increases proposed and made public representation to present shippers' view point and influence all-in price concept even while rates changed globally. The council worked closely with both the airport & aviation agency and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) during the past year where the council was specially invited to serve in specific committees appointed by the Minister in-charge, the secretary to the ministry of Ports and shipping and the SLPA. Meaningful changes were proposed to the stagnated National Maritime and Logistics policy to make same robust and avoid it supporting only a particular section of the industry. Our support to boost entrepot trade and developing a port community system continued. The council together with other connected associations played a pivotal role in the Covid-19 situation particularly on clearance of containers from the port during curfew period and addressing issues connected to demurrage and rentals charged unjustly to the already ill-fated importers due to lockdown. Considerable reliefs and reimbursement of charges are forthcoming due to the constant pressure leveled at the charging agencies and this work continues as we speak. The council continued to fulfill its commitment to The National Export Strategy by way of harnessing the talents of the logistics fraternity in the country by offering scholarships to identified individuals in the industry in partnership with CINEC maritime campus and Institute of Shipping & Logistics. This is also the cue for me to thank Prof. Lalith Edirisinghe of CINEC campus and Mr. Gihan Warusavitarne of Institute of Shipping & Logistics for their continued support for many years in this endeavor. During the year, the council also took steps to introduce new technology to its operations by enabling executive committee members to be connected through what's app messaging group and initiated online virtual meetings using Microsoft Teams. The council also establishment an annual budgeting system and initiated greater focus on monthly costs by the inclusion and perusing of Council's Cash book as part of the accounts pack. It is also noteworthy to mention that the reserves of the council increased during the year in review.

Focusing on the support organizations, while appreciating the digitalization efforts in some of the most challenging boarder agencies, we urge the government to support the industry by enabling other connected organizations to recognize the value of paperless trade as well. We also implore the decision makers to observe facts holistically when making policy decisions connected to international trade. While multiple efforts made by the government to support the SME sector of the country is laudable, sudden shocks such as import restrictions across the board deter the ability of already performing exporters to thrive. However, we salute the new leadership in many government agencies connected to international trade activities; for the out of the box thinking, honesty and trade friendly attitude demonstrated.

Friends, we recognize that issues pertaining to freight surcharges and vested parties lobbying against all-in pricing strategy are key challenges that we will need to face in the future. As we steer though these uncertain times, we call upon the executive committee, members and past chairmen of the council to support us in our endeavors in the coming year. We will continue to work hand in hand with the Global Shippers' Forum in our ventures so that matters of importance could be addressed globally for early settlement. We are now in the post Covid-19 new world and our actions hereon will spell whether we were successful or not when history is written. We must embrace change, new way of working and businesses must reset.

Finally, I take this opportunity to very specially thank our Platinum sponsors, Hayleys Advantis Ltd - Sri Lanka's largest and most diversified transportation and logistics company and Expo freight limited - Logistics made simple; our Gold sponsors KERRY Logistics represented by IAS Holdings Pvt Ltd and CWT Globe Link Colombo Pvt Ltd; our Silver sponsor Trinity logistics together with other sponsors who provided e-banners to make this event a success. A special word of thanks to our secretariat, Manori, for her unstinted support through the year and to all of you who spared precious time to join the 50th AGM of the Sri Lanka Shippers' Council today. Thank you and May God Bless you!

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