Sri Lanka

Media coverage on Asia Liberty Forum 2019

The Advocata Institute co-hosted Atlas Network’s Asia Liberty Forum earlier this month from the 28th of February - 01st of March at the Hilton Colombo. The event was graced by 250+ academics, intellectual and leading economic and policy thinkers from over 30 countries. The Freedom Dinner on the 28th of February saw the presence of leading political dignitaries as well. The forum focused on economic challenges facing the Asian region and way forward.

Sunday Observer - Advocata Institute to host Asia Liberty Forum

“Over 200 leading academics, policymakers and intellectuals from over 30 countries will participate in the Asia Liberty Forum 2019 in Colombo to discuss challenges facing the Asian region and to learn from each other on how to advance free-market reforms. The Asia Liberty Forum is an annual event by the United States based Atlas Network, co-hosted in partnership with the Advocata Institute.”

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Lanka Business Online - Advocata Institute to host Asia Liberty Forum 2019 in Sri Lanka

“Over 200 participants, comprising leading academics, policy makers and intellectuals from over 30 countries will come together in Colombo, Sri Lanka for the 2019 Asia Liberty Forum to discuss challenges facing the Asian region and to learn from each other on how to most effectively advance free-market reforms.”

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Daily News - Asia Liberty Forum co-hosted by Advocata Institute, Atlas Network today

“The Asia Liberty Forum brings together over 50 speakers, over 275 thought leaders and intellectuals from 40 different countries to discuss challenges facing the region and to learn from one another how to effectively advance market-oriented reforms. The annual Asia Liberty Forum is hosted by the Atlas Network and co-hosted by Advocata Institute in Sri Lanka this year.”

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Daily FT - Public events at Asia Liberty Forum announced

“The annual Asia Liberty Forum is hosted by the Atlas Network and co-hosted by Advocata Institute in Sri Lanka this year. With the objective of making this year’s forum affordable and accessible to all, Advocata Institute is opening up two sessions to the public, with free admission.”

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Business World - Capitalism and freedom in Asia

“The annual Asia Liberty Forum (ALF) 2019 conference is held this week February 28 to March 1 in this South Asian country. To discuss and promote capitalism and free market policies may look ironic in a country that is officially named “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.” Yet this country has more pro-market policies than many supposedly capitalist Asian economies.”

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Sunday Observer - Expert advocates economic reforms for five years

“Sri Lanka needs to implement much needed economic reforms at least for the next five years, particularly to address the debt burden. It is the responsibility of governments to place the economy on a sound footing to revive growth and to accrue benefits to the people, Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, Dr. Ganeshan Wignaraja told the first ever Asia Liberty Forum in Colombo last week.”

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Daily FT - Recipe for SOE reform

“Speaking at the launch of the ‘State of State Owned Enterprises 2019’ report compiled by local think-tank Advocata, Resident Fellow Ravi Ratnasabapathy recapped the significant role played by SOEs in the Sri Lankan economy. He pointed out they were vulnerable to mismanagement and corruption because of potential conflicts between the ownership and policy-making functions of the Government and undue political influence on their policies, appointments, and business practices.”

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What is the state of Sri Lanka's state enterprises?

Sri Lanka has a total of 527 State Owned Enterprises out of which regular information is only available for 55. These SOE's accumulate billions of losses annually due to sheer mismanagement. The precedence of corruption in the highly bureaucratic systems that govern SOEs are also a case for alarm. What is the state of our state owned enterprises?

At this year's Asia Liberty Forum, 2019, we are explored this topic in a discussion and public talk by Ravi Ratnasabapathy, Suresh Shah, Thilan Wijesinghe and Dr. Malathy Knight; moderated by Dr. Nishan de Mel.

Report out now: https://goo.gl/XogBvY

How can Asia embrace its urban future?

Many Asian countries vastly underestimate the levels of urbanization in their countries. Yet Cities are the engines of growth and prosperity. How can we embrace our urban future? What are the issues and challenges? 

A panel discussion by Pritika Hingorani, Hon. Dr. Harsha de Silva and Iromi Perera; moderated by Anushka Wijesinha at the Asia Liberty Forum, 2019.

What are the consequences of a depreciating currency?

The past few months have witnessed rapid currency depreciation across Asia, causing a significant amount of concern across economic sectors. What are the reasons behind these changes, what is their real impact on Asian economies and its people? A panel discussion by Dr. Ross McCleod, Dr. Cris Lingle and Dr. Ajay Shah; moderated by Murtaza Jafferjee at the Asia Liberty Forum, 2019.

Is Sri Lanka afraid of opening up to trade?

Sri Lanka was one of the first countries in South Asia to open up it’s economy in 1978. Four decades later however, it’s one of the least open economies in the region. At this year's Asia Liberty Forum, 2019, we are explored the question "Are we afraid of opening up?" in a public talk and panel discussion by Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, Lakshman Athukorala, Dr. Charitha Herath and Chandi Dharmaratne; moderated by Nisthar Cassim.

Media coverage on report launch: Price Controls in Sri Lanka

The Advocata Institute recently released their latest report, “Price Controls in Sri Lanka: Political Theatre”, which finds that consumer price controls lead to unintended outcomes including lower quality.

Advocata advocates abolishing price controls

"Politically-motivated price controls offer very little value to reduce costs and are detrimental to trade, industry and consumers asserts The Advocata Institute, launching its new report ‘Price Controls in Sri Lanka: Political Theater’ in Colombo on Tuesday." 

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Price controls on foodstuffs —a political gimmick?

"The price controls slapped on a number of foodstuffs are of limited value despite their popular rhetoric, given the low adherence of traders towards the administered prices and lax enforcement actions by authorities, a recent survey conducted in Colombo and a few of the suburbs, revealed. " 

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Do price controls reduce the cost of living?

“Last year, the Government imposed price controls on sixteen essential items, including dhal, sugar, potatoes, and imported onions. Has this reduced prices for consumers? Unfortunately not. A recent survey by Advocata found that the controlled prices are not being followed in most instances.”

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Price control - a political stunt

‘A report on competition by the Advocata Institute says that fostering competition and improving productivity are the best forms of price control. The report titled ‘Price Control in Sri Lanka: political theatre’ notes that price controls are of limited value in reducing prices of consumer goods. Such measures rather than benefiting consumers lead only to welfare losses, deterioration in product quality, reduction in investment and in the long term, higher prices.’

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Price control through taxation, self-defeating

‘The government’s price control practice  through taxation on essential items does not serve the purpose because it limits the value in reducing cost and damage markets by preventing the supply of products from rising to meet demand, a top market research company said.’

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Let's Talk Development: FB live with Tim O'Brien

The Advocata Institute hosted Timothy O'Brien from the Center for International Development at Harvard University on the 25th of September for a Facebook Live. 

The focus areas of the discussion were on Sri Lanka's growth trajectory, trade and development. 

Tim O’Brien joined CID in 2015 and has worked on both Growth Lab and Building State Capability projects.He has led growth diagnostic research in Albania and Sri Lanka. Tim’s research interests center on the challenges of economic transformation and adapting to climate change in developing countries and vulnerable communities.

Media coverage for Prof. Razeen Sally lecture on Asian Capitalism and what it means for Sri Lanka

Advocata Institute in partnership with Echelon Magazine hosted Prof. Razeen Sally for a talk on the state of Asian Capitalism and what it means for Sri Lanka. Following is a collection of press coverage on the lecture where Prof. Razeeb Sally spoke of the the three facets of Asian capitalism: economic, political, and global.

Daily FT: SL is running out of input-led ‘perspiration’ growth in changing Asia: Razeen Sally

"Shortages of labour, land and an ageing population mean that Sri Lanka’s opportunities for rapid catch-up growth are diminishing and institutional transformation is needed for innovation and output-led growth." 

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Sunday Times: Sri Lanka losing battle to increase productivity growth due to cronyism, lack of strong institutions

"Prof. Sally, who is also chairman of the Institute of Policy Studies, one of the leading economic-policy think tanks in the country, believes Sri Lanka’s crony patronage system between politicians and businessmen and the lack of strong institutions (legal, banking, public administration, etc) were an impediment to productivity growth."

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Sunday Observer: Sri Lanka has to get reform basics right - Sally 

"Addressing a recent lecture titled Capitalism in Asia: What it means for Sri Lanka, Associate Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, Razeen Sally points out that the country which is transitioning towards an upper middle-income country should not be overly dependent on the kind of ‘catch-up growth’ it had in the past, but try to improve its institutional framework and focus on innovation."

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Daily Mirror: Sri Lanka sleepwalking into a Rajapaksa dynasty - Prof. Sally

"Delivering a public lecture last week on the topic ‘Capitalism in Asia and what it means for Sri Lanka’, organised by Advocata Institute – an open market advocacy – Prof. Sally said the present government is doing its best towards a Rajapaksa restoration."

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Daily Mirror: March corporate earnings defy overall negative sentiment

"Last week, Professor Razeen Sally, a renowned scholar and the Chairman of Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Colombo, slammed the crony private sector in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in Asia that undermines the enterprise renaissance and effective capitalism."

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Prof. Robert Lawrence on Protectionism vs Free Trade: Video

Advocata Institute in partnership with Echelon Magazine, organized a public lecture by Ricardo Hausmann, from Harvard University's Centre for International Development. He spoke of Free Trade vs Protectionism 101 and its relation to Sri Lanka, and encouraged Sri Lanka to take on ambitious high skilled immigration reform to increase knowhow in the economy.

Prof. Razeen Sally on the state of Asian Capitalism and what it means for Sri Lanka: Video and Q&A

Prof. Razeen Sally, Associate Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, spoke of the three facets of Asian capitalism and what it means for Sri Lanka at a public lecture organized by Advocata and the Echelon Magazine. 

Q&A Moderated by Eshini Ekanayake, an Economist at JB Securities focused on macroeconomic research and analysis on Sri Lanka.

Razeen Sally delivers Lecture on Three scenarios for Sri Lanka's future

Prof. Razeen Sally delivered a public lecture at the Advocata Institute, last week on Sri Lanka's future.  This is the third edition on Advocata's series of public lectures.  The full lecture is now online.  The event was done in partnership with the Echelon Magazine. 

 

From Economy Next:

Sri Lanka had windows of opportunity to change direction in the past, but had 'missed the bus' several times in its post-independence history according to many commentators.

Sally recalled something that is said often about Brazil: "Brazil is the country of the future, it always was and it always will be.

"There is that golden potential out there, but it is never achieved," Sally said.

"Of course Sri Lanka never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. I hope that opportunity has not been squandered. It is late in the day, but it is still there."

Sri Lanka's economy did not have enough competition with 'commanding heights' of the economy controlled by oligarchs. 

The country was in the grip entrenched political and economic interests without any new blood to bring change and competition.

"Sri Lankan economy has a competitiveness problem," Sally said. "It has a productivity problem," The way to raise productivity and to raise competitiveness is to have a stronger private sector. 

"And also to have much more globalization of the Sri Lankan economy. More trade, more exports import as well as more foreign investments.

Doing business policies had to change. A combination of domestic and private sector investment was needed to transform the economy to have 6-8 percent growth.

Reforms were needed to bring 3 to 5 billion US dollars of foreign investment. 

Sri Lanka needed simple and predictable tax policies.

"No more price controls, no more announcements of exchange controls."

A stable macro-economic policy that went beyond the IMF program, including tax reforms that were genuinely simpler and relatively low without sudden changes was needed.  Institutional checks were needed including a genuinely independent central bank with better policies.

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Foreign investment necessary to wipe out poverty, economist says

Although fixing Sri Lanka’s economy is not easy, the model of foreign direct investment flows into the Asia Pacific region in countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries was worth looking, according to Economics Prof. Prema Chandra Athukorala from the the Australian National University.  Speaking on the topic “Foreign Direct Investment and Manufacturing for Export and Emerging Trends and Opportunities for Sri Lanka” in Colombo last week at a forum organised by Advocata Institute, a Colombo-based free market think tank, he said his theory was based on research done by him on FDI inflows into those countries.

He said there is no panacea for economic development but there is one avenue which had been very effective in drawing direct foreign investment for promoting manufacture for exports.  To reduce poverty it was necessary to generate employment and the use of labour as a resource is necessary as one cannot start at the top end with sophisticated machinery without training unskilled labour. “Countries such as Malaysia Thailand Singapore and now Vietnam have used labour resources to eradicate poverty. We cannot ignore globalisation if we are to emulate developed countries such as Singapore to eradicate poverty and not remain like Myanmar.

Although some ministers have voiced their opinion to bypass manufacturing and to focus on the tourism sector, manufacturing was absolutely necessary to generate employment to eradicate poverty with unskilled workers. Foreign investment is also needed to generate employment and countries like Japan relies on foreign investment and the technical know how. It comes as a package with market linkages.”  Foreign investment is an important component for a country like Sri Lanka to start big industries like MAS Holdings, Brandix, Hirdaramani and others. “We need foreign investment to link up with the global market chain.” Referring to international brands such as Nike, he said different components of the shoe were produced in five countries including Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

Read the article on Sunday Times 

Economist urges more investment protection To drive global production sharing in Lanka

Prof. Prema-Chandra Athukorala

Prof. Prema-Chandra Athukorala

Sri Lanka should cut barriers to trade and investment to attract foreign investors into electronic component manufacture, top trade economist Prema-Chandra Athukorala said at a forum organised by Advocata Institute, a Colombo-based free market think tank.

This would form a natural progression from garment manufacture, on which the country is now heavily reliant. Sri Lanka's protectionist trade policy and erosion of confidence in the legal system are key factors that have discouraged investors resulting a decline in Sri Lanka's share in world manufacturing exports from around 2000, said Athukorala, who is a Professor of Economics at the Australian National University and a top consultant on international trade to a host of international organisations. The liberalisation undertaken in the late 1970s resulted in a notable increase in manufacturing exports and a steady increase in Sri Lanka's share in world manufacturing exports.

The reforms suffered a significant setback from about the early 2000: with the imposition of para-tariffs (taxes over and above normal tariffs), and a proliferation of ad-hoc duty exemptions and case-by-case duty adjustments. Sri Lanka has a bewildering number of para-tariffs including: Ports and Airports Development Levy (PAL), the Customs Surcharge (SUR), the Commodity Export Subsidy Scheme (Cess), and the Regional Infrastructure Development Levy (RIDL).

Sri Lanka needs to continue with reforms if it is to reap the benefits of export led growth. "That is why South Asian countries have not been able to join global production sharing like East Asia. Just having cheap labour alone is not enough." The global economic environment is changing with production sharing (Global Production Networks- GPN's) becoming the prime mover of cross border production and trade. GPN's are of two types, buyer driven and producer driven.

Read the entire article on Sunday Observer 

Driving Global Production Sharing In Sri Lanka

Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Bryce Hutchesson and Prof. Prema-Chandra Athukorala

Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Bryce Hutchesson and Prof. Prema-Chandra Athukorala

In the light of Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade promising to present the Agency for Development (AfD) Bill to parliament, think tanks and economists lament that Sri Lanka has a long way to go in removal of para-tariffs (taxes over and above normal tariffs) and trade liberalisation to make Sri Lanka a haven for investments.

To attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) for Sri Lanka, its burgeoning Indian Ocean Island economy, should cut barriers to trade and investment, top trade economist Prof. Prema-Chandra Athukorala recently said at a forum organised by Advocata Institute, a Colombo-based free market think tank.

“This would form a natural progression from garment manufacture, on which the country is now heavily reliant. Sri Lanka’s protectionist trade policy and erosion of confidence in the legal system are key factors that have discouraged investors resulting in a decline in Sri Lanka’s share in world manufacturing exports from around 2000,” he said.

Athukorala is a Professor of Economics at Australian National University and a top consultant on international trade to a host of international organisations.

The liberalisation undertaken in the late 1970’s resulted in a notable increase in manufacturing exports and a steady increase in Sri Lanka’s share in world manufacturing exports. The reforms suffered a significant setback from about the early 2000: with the imposition of para-tariffs, and a proliferation of ad-hoc duty exemptions and case-by-case duty adjustments.

Sri Lanka has a bewildering number of para-tariffs including: Ports and Airports Development Levy (PAL), the Customs Surcharge (SUR), the Commodity Export Subsidy Scheme (Cess), and the Regional Infrastructure Development Levy (RIDL).

Sri Lanka needs to continue with reforms if it is to reap the benefits of export led growth. “That is why South Asian countries have not been able to join global production sharing like East Asia. Just having cheap labour alone is not enough.”

The global economic environment is changing with production sharing (Global Production Networks- GPN’s) becoming the prime mover of cross border production and trade. GPN’s are of two types, buyer driven and producer driven.

To date, most of the Sri Lanka’s FDI is in Buyer driven GPNs where a buyer (usually a retailer) buys finished goods. Although common in industries such as garments and footwear, globally buyer driven GPN’s formed only 12 per cent of world manufacturing trade (in 2012-13), and its share is declining.

Producer driven GPNs are where an end producer assembles the final product from components made in several locations. This takes place in vertically integrated industries such as electronics, medical devices and cars. Producer driven GPN’s accounted for 51.1 per cent of world manufacturing trade in 2012-3 and its share is growing; this is the trend Sri Lanka needs to tap into, according to Prof. Athukorala.

Successful integration of the manufacturing sector into producer driven GPN’s has played a key role in employment generation and poverty reduction in China and other high-performing East Asian countries.

The determinants of a country’s success in joining global production networks are the availability of trainable labour, proactive investment promotion and service link costs, according to the economist. He emphasised that while the importance of infrastructure and political stability to reduce link costs are often spoken about, Sri Lanka needs to focus on property rights protection, ease of enforcing contracts and a liberal trade and investment policy to attract FDI.

Read the entire article on The Sunday Leader

Joining producer-driven GPNs key to revive exports: Top Economist

Sri Lanka lags far behind the East-Asian countries in reaping gains in exports as it has failed to join producer-driven Global Production Networks (GPNs) despite the country being either equally or better placed than countries like Thailand and Malaysia, a top academic lamented last week.

Delivering a public lecture on FDI and Manufacturing for Export: Emerging Patterns and Opportunities for Sri Lanka, renowned-Economist Professor Premachandra Athukorala said that in the past, although the country did well in joining buyer-driven GPNs with heavy concentration in apparel exports, it fell short of potential in gaining momentum in joining the producer-driven GPNs, where FDI played a key role.

“There is strong evidence that Sri Lanka missed the opportunity of becoming an assembly centre within producer driven GPN because of political instability and uncertainty,” Athukorala said.

Producer-driven GPNs are common in vertically-integrated global industries such as electronics, electrical goods, automobiles, scientific and medical devices with the ‘Lead firm’ being the manufacturing Multinational Enterprise. The bulk of global production sharing takes place through intra-firm linkages within MNE network rather than in an arms-length manner.

“Successful integration of the manufacturing sector into production networks, in particular producer-driven GPNs, have played a key role in employment generation and poverty reduction in China and other high-performing East Asian countries,” Prof. Athukorale said.
He pointed out that based on 2013 statistics on the total share of GPN products in manufacturing exports, Sri Lanka’s producer-driven GPN stood at a low of 8.5% while buyer-driven GPNs formed a majority of 67.2%.

Meanwhile, Prof. Athukorale said Sri Lanka’s immediate policy priority should be to restore policy emphasis on export-oriented industrialisation, set up institutional safeguards to avert further backsliding from reforms, and continue with implementing the incomplete reform agenda.

“The Sri Lankan experience highlights the complementary role of investment liberalization for exploiting the potential gains from trade liberalization. Trade liberalization increased the potential returns to investment by capitalizing on a country’s comparative advantage, while liberalization of foreign investments permitted international firms to take advantage of such profit opportunities,” he highlighted.

He further emphasized that the island now needs to formulate proactive well-targetted policies to attract foreign investors and not solely rely on roadshows as attracting a big international player has ‘demonstration’ effect on others –the so-called herd-mentality in global industries.

FTAs: Good, bad and ugly

This newspaper, in an article titled 'FDI lowest in 10 years' which appeared in its columns on Saturday, quoting an economist said that free trade zones (FTZs) and not free trade agreements (FTAs) were the road to boost exports.


Professor Prema-Chandra Athukorala, Professor of Economics, Australian National University, speaking at a function in Colombo on Thursday organized by Advocata Institute, a local think tank, said global studies had shown that vis-à-vis enhancing exports, only 10% of the concessions offered by FTAs have been utilized in this regard.
With Sri Lanka planning to broaden its current FTA with India to an Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA), due to space constraints, this editorial will only focus on FTAs.


Meanwhile, as per Athukorala's lecture, the balance 90% offered as concessions under FTAs has proved to be only theoretical, with no practical value to enhance exports. He said that the stumbling block was the rules of origin (ROO) under FTAs.
In Sri Lanka's case, the island currently has two FTAs, one with India as aforesaid and the other with Pakistan. Both these agreements are over a decade old.


Athukorala, citing an example of the ROO and its impediment to boost exports vis-à-vis the Sri Lanka context said that he spoke to a joss sticks manufacturer at Mawanella the other day. This manufacturer said that he cannot export joss sticks to India by trying to avail himself of the concessions to which exporters are reportedly entitled to under the Indo-Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ILFTA) because of India's stringent ROO. As a key component in the manufacture of joss sticks is imported from India it disqualifies this manufacturer from exporting to India under the ILFTA duty concessionary umbrella because of this ROO law.

Read the entire article on Ceylon Today 

Rationalise tariff system to liberalise trade: renowned economist

Sri Lanka’s immediate policy priority should be to restore policy emphasis on export-oriented industrialisation, set up institutional safeguards to avoid further backsliding from reforms and continue with implementing the incomplete reform agenda, senior economist Prof. Premachandra Athukorala said.

Delivering a lecture titled ‘FDI and Manufacturing for Export: Emerging Global Patterns and Opportunities for Sri Lanka’, organised by the think tank Advocta Institute, Prof. Athukorala said Sri Lanka failed to capture the full benefits of trade and investment liberalisation due to the protracted war that undermined the investment climate and macroeconomic stability and that instead of formulating a new model from scratch the Government must learn from the past.

“We have achieved a lot under a lot of constraints - particularly political instability and policy uncertainty. Now that peace is here, the Government has to try and learn from our past instead of thinking about a new model. I think we have a model that has been tested very well. It can generate more benefits to the country if the Government has a very focused plan to continue with this strategy,” he said.

Trade and investment policy reforms initiated in the late 1970s, said Prof. Athukorala, set the stage for globally integrating the Sri Lankan manufacturing sector with Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) playing a pivotal role.

The Sri Lankan experience highlights the complementary role of investment liberalisation for exploiting the potential gains from trade liberalisation, said Prof. Athukorala, adding that trade liberalisation increased the potential returns to investment by capitalising on a country’s comparative advantage, while liberalisation of foreign investments permitted international firms to take advantage of such profit opportunities.

Responding to a question on Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) at the Q&A session that followed the lecture, moderated by Chief Economist at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Anushka Wijesinha, Prof. Athukorala said that though they are called FTAs they are actually not free trade.

“The term FTA is a misnomer,” he said, adding that FTAs have very low utilisation.

“I consider it a political gimmick. The admin compliance costs are too much,” he said.

He suggested that what Sri Lanka needed to focus on instead was the rationalisation of the trade tariff system in order to liberalise trade.

“What is needed is to rationalise the tariff system. People think that higher tariff means more revenue for the Government, which is not the case. There is evidence to suggest that a more uniform, lower tariff system can generate more government revenue simply because the system becomes much more transparent,” said Prof. Athukorala.

Cascading tariffs can be a breeding ground for corruption, warned Prof. Athukorala, adding that if the tariff regime was low and uniform, it competed against smuggling and could improve Government revenue.

Policy inconsistency can also be a killer, said Prof. Athukorala, pointing out that last year saw the lowest FDI levels in history.

The Board of Investment (BOI) was relegated under the last regime and investments were done on a political basis, he charged.

Prof. Athukorala suggested that Sri Lanka market itself internationally to potential FDIs by sharing its success stories and using successful entrepreneurs in proactive investment promotion campaigns.

Read the article on Daily FT