Thursday, 06  March 2003  
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Increased import tariffs good, but should not hit consumers, says business

By Chamitha Kuruppu

Top Chamber leaders yesterday welcomed the government's decision to increase tariff charges on imported goods in order to protect local farmers and industrialists, saying that it was a crying need. However they pointed out that the move should not be a burden to the consumer.

The increase of taxes alone will not be enough to protect farmers and industries. The Government should also encourage local investments in these areas with the support of research institutions and funding agencies to increase production levels sufficiently, they said.

"If we managed such mass-production for the local market, we can pass on the benefit to the consumer, resulting in price reductions," they said.

Finance Minister K.N.Choksy told Parliament on Tuesday that customs duties imposed on imported onions, dried onions, green grams, cowpea, rice flour, finished electrical goods, sugar candy, intermediate finished goods, rods, television sets and solar power apparatus will be increased in order to support and protect local industries.

President of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industries in Sri Lanka (FCCISL) Nihal Abeysekera said: The decision taken by the government to increase tariff charges on imported items is a 'welcome move'. This will protect local farmers. It is an incentive for them. The decision would help step up total production in the country.

However, he said that the Government should take steps to safeguard the consumer as well. "Consumer price stabilisation is also an important factor that the government should take into consideration. Measures taken to boost farmers should not be a burden to the consumer."

President of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Thilak De Zoysa said: This is a good move. The decision is the best the government could have taken to protect local farmers and industrialists. The agricultural sector of the country should be looked after well. Therefore, the decision will support the industry 100 percent. The majority of the local farmers are capable of increasing production.

They are capable of meeting the demand of local consumers. All that is required is a helping hand from the authorities. With the harvest coming in farmers will have a difficult time in the future. Therefore, it is a 'crying need'.

President of the Ceylon National Chamber of Industries Ranjith Hettiarachchi said: Sri Lanka is a country which welcomes and follows the open economy. At last the country has decided to take steps like in other developing countries, to protect local farmers and industrialists by increasing tariff charges on imported goods. This will help create healthy competition in the country as well as to stabilise prices. This is a balanced move.

President of the National Chamber of Commerce Asoka de Z Gunasekera said; "Our farmers and industrialists need to be protected. Most of the other countries provide many subsidies to farmers. Therefore, they can provide products at a lower cost. The decision will help bring prices of imported goods on par with local prices. The cost-of-living and prices of consumer goods must be kept down to protect the consumer. Generating more employment opportunities and increasing productivity must go hand in hand with this decision if the government wants to protect local industrialists.

President of the Business Council for Sustainable Development in Sri Lanka, Chandra Embuldeniya said that it was a very important decision taken by the Government in the recent times. "We've been clamouring for these changes.

The food and agriculture sectors should be treated as the main industries in the country. We should also look into ways and means to develop a food processing industry. We have sufficient research in these sectors which have not been used to the fullest potential.

Therefore, we must provide funds and encourage investors to set up industries which would make use of such research information," he said.

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