Sri Lanka looks to attract Saudi investment in tourism, energy

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COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is working on attracting more investment from Saudi Arabia, the island nation’s envoy in Jeddah told Arab News, as Saudi support is seen as important to help put the Sri Lankan economy back on track.

The country has been gripped by a deep financial crisis caused by economic mismanagement and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which left the island nation severely short of dollars for essential imports and its people struggling with soaring costs of living.

The International Monetary Fund approved in March a nearly $3 billion bailout loan for Colombo, but as it will take time for the country to recover, Sri Lankan missions abroad have been working to attract more foreign investors to help put the battered economy back on track.

Investment from Saudi Arabia has been identified as a key part of ongoing recovery efforts in Sri Lanka, said Falah Alhabshi Mowlana, Sri Lanka’s consul general in Jeddah.

“Saudi investment is very important to Sri Lanka,” Mowlana told Arab News in an interview in Colombo over the weekend.

“This is the country that helped Egypt, Pakistan, etc during their economic depression. In this current situation, if Sri Lanka can attract Saudi investments it would play a huge role in the stability of the Sri Lankan economy.”

The Board of Investment of Sri Lanka has been working with the country’s foreign missions to attract more foreign investors, Mowlana said, adding that the tourism and energy sectors are likely the most potential for Saudi investment.

“(The) tourism sector is one of the best sectors that can attract Saudi investment … If the opportunities in Sri Lanka in this sector can be presented in a proper way to Saudi nationals that will immensely impact Foreign Direct Investment to Sri Lanka.”

When Sri Lanka declared 2022 the “Visit Sri Lanka Year” to prioritize the tourism industry, it also realigned its strategies and identified the Middle East among its top potential markets, pinning hopes especially on Saudi Arabia.

After holding various tourism promotions last year, Mowlana said Sri Lankan officials have continued discussions with leading tour operators in Jeddah.

The growth of the electric vehicle industry in Saudi Arabia can also offer opportunities for Sri Lanka, the envoy said.

“They are in the position of expanding their production worldwide, including (to) Sri Lanka. We can say some examples such as ACWA power and Lucid Motors,” he said, referring to the Saudi energy giant and the electric carmaker backed by the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund.

Sri Lankan officials have been working on boosting ties with Saudi Arabia for the past year, with Foreign Minister Ali Sabry having visited the Kingdom earlier in January to further relations in connectivity, investment, and employment opportunities.

Last August, Environment Minister Naseer Ahamed also visited Riyadh as a special envoy of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, where his meetings focused on increasing energy cooperation.