COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is preparing to participate in the Gulfood 2023 exhibition in the UAE, the Exports Development Board said on Wednesday, as the crisis-hit country looks to attract additional foreign business.
The event, one of the region’s biggest food and beverage exhibitions, will be held in Dubai Feb. 20-24, featuring thousands of participants from around the world.
The objective of Sri Lanka’s participation is to promote sales of its products in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia regions, which constitute 40 percent of its export market.
Nearly 90 food and beverage companies applied to represent the country at its expo pavilion, according to Sri Lanka’s Exports Development Board.
“The EDB carefully selected 28 from among them who would be able to capture new trade opportunities in the UAE and also among the countries in the Middle East,” EDB Assistant Director Gayani Wijetilake told Arab News.
The companies will showcase mainly processed and fresh fruits and vegetables, coconut-based products, tea, spices and certified organic food and supplements.
As countries in the Middle East have been focused on food security, especially since COVID-19 pandemic restrictions upended global supply chains, Sri Lanka wants to tap into the market.
“We can have a networking with them and capture new market opportunities created due to the COVID-19 situation,” Wijetilake said.
“There are big emerging demands for products — natural, healthy products — we have that opportunity to promote our Sri Lankan brands.”
But the main purpose, she added, is to boost the crisis-hit country’s overall exports.
Since early 2022, the island nation of 22 million has been gripped by a deep financial crisis — its first sovereign default since independence — because of record-low foreign exchange reserves.
Officially, Sri Lanka’s reserves stand at $1.7 billion, but this includes $1.4 billion from the People’s Bank of China that cannot be tapped until the country saves up reserves to finance three months of imports.
While Colombo is working to access a $2.9 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund to put its debt repayments back on track and stabilize the economy, it is pinning hope on exports to bring in more dollars.
The markets Sri Lanka will be targeting at the Gulfood exhibition brought $400 million to the country in 2022.
“We are targeting $592 million for 2023,” Wijetilake said.
“We will get more foreign exchange to the country ... for a little bit of relaxation of the current situation we are facing.”