Sri Lanka plans to set up a ‘digital free trade zone’ to help exporters, especially small businesses, cut red tape and connect to global markets, like similar initiatives by China and Malaysia.
“Digitally connecting companies to global value chains is an important aspect of the government’s digital economy strategy,” said M. C. L. Rodrigo, secretary to the Ministry of Digital Infrastructure and Information Technology (MDIIT).
The initiative aims to make it easier for small and medium entrepreneurs (SMEs) to find buyers, and store, handle and ship goods, as well as deal with documentation and regulatory processes like customs.
Rodrigo said the ‘digitally enabled free trade zone’ is expected to help the island achieve its target of rapidly increasing exports.
“The concept has been recognised in Sri Lanka’s digital economy strategy,” he told a forum on e-commerce reforms held by the International Trade Centre and MDIIT.
“The draft national digital policy which is still under review has recognised the need for an innovative economy with a focus on improved competitiveness,” Rodrigo said.
It was essential to increase penetration of e-commerce knowledge and skills, especially to the village level and grassroots level where most people live, he said.
“We recognise all types of business in the digital domain despite their sizes. Start-ups and freelancers are not left behind.”
Malaysia recently launched a ‘Digital Free Trade Zone’ in collaboration with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, which has similar initiatives in China and is setting up a regional distribution hub in the south east Asian nation.
The hub will act as a centralized customs clearance, warehousing and fulfillment or warehousing and logistics facility for the region in order to speed up clearance for imports and exports.
Malaysia’s ‘Digital Free Trade Zone’ aims to help SMEs export by connecting them to online markets, government agencies, and cross border logistics payment providers.