Annual General Meeting of the Sri Lanka - Benelux Business Council

Ambassador Gonggrijp was the Chief Guest at the 26th Annual General Meeting of the Sri Lanka - Benelux Business Council. This was her message to the esteemed guests at the event.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be here.

At first, I like to thank you for inviting me at this 26th Annual General Meeting. As you might know I have only just arrived and I am still getting acquainted with Sri Lanka, its developments, habits and its people. My first impressions are very positive.

As this business council cherishes a focus on promoting investment, trade and joint venture between Sri Lanka and the Benelux, I would like to ask all of you to think about the following question:

What is your definition of a successful bilateral trading relationship?

To me, personally, it means a lot more than promoting and encouraging trade, leading to mutual financial gain. It means providing each other with knowledge and information about relevant topics, which enables us to contribute to a more innovative and sustainable trading environment. I think engagements like these provide opportunities to overcome social, economic and environmental challenges we all have to deal with. I think of climate change, inequality, water and food security. All global issues that none of us can tackle or solve on an individual basis. And I guess you do not individually feel responsible for solving these problems either. Which I understand.

However as countries we have all committed ourselves to the Sustainable Developments Goals. These goals will help us overcome these challenges, as countries, governments, but also as companies and consumers. However concerted effort is essential; governments have to make the right laws and enforce them, but also companies, trade unions, ngo’s and consumers should take their responsibility.

I see you wondering why I share this with you… I do so, as this is not (just) an ideology, this is very quickly becoming a reality. In the Netherlands, in the Benelux, in Europe, or we could even say the West, companies are held responsible for their value chain. This is according to the UN guiding principles and in more details de OECD guidelines. This means that responsible business conduct does not only cover the actions of the company in, for instance the Netherlands, but also the companies they source from. In many cases those companies are situated in Asia and as you know best, this includes Sri Lanka.

So why is this important? This trend will have an effect on the sourcing and importing practices of Benelux companies. As they are held accountable for their value chain, they will be more involved in the production and manufacturing here: does it live up to environmental and social standards? And this is where you come in. If Sri Lanka in general and your companies in particular feel and take this responsibility, Sri Lanka, including you, can become the sustainable choice for Dutch, European, Western buyers and companies. Which can give you a head start compared to some other companies and countries in the region. 

In the upcoming years, we as the embassy of The Netherlands in Sri Lanka, are going to focus on developing more sustainable trade and cooperation between our two countries, as well as on finding solutions to the global challenges I mentioned earlier. Regarding the economic and environmental situation in Sri Lanka, we are keen on contributing to the growth of sustainable concepts, especially within the embassy’s priority sectors, which are infrastructure, water and agriculture.

Our shared history provides us with a strong foundation to continue and develop our economic relationship. Sri Lanka and the Netherlands started trading more than 400 years ago, when the Dutch started to show interest in Sri Lankan spices. Until this day, the spices are an example of one of the many Sri Lankan export products we are very fond of. My embassy has always been supportive when it comes to maintaining our historical relationship as well as creating new business opportunities. In the future we will definitely continue this policy, which we like to call ‘Old friends, new trends!’

We highly value the connections we share with Sri Lanka as a country and with you as a business council. Let our shared history and contemporary ties be fundamental in creating the innovations that are needed.

I wish you all a pleasant evening and I am looking forward to hearing your ideas about the most optimal way to continue our trading relationship.