Sri Lanka, as a developing country, which has followed a citizen-centered socio-economic development strategy, can share many positive development experiences with the international community. Human development and developing a skilled human resource base have been key priorities in our national development agenda. We have placed great emphasis on improving the productive capacities and creating employment opportunities for those entering the labour force. Sustained investments in the health and education sectors have enhanced productivity in the country. We have achieved many socio-economic targets, including many of the Millennium Development Goals, during the course of the last two decades through our own efforts and in partnership with UN agencies.
Our nation has demonstrated remarkable success in achieving targets concerning poverty eradication, infrastructure development, public health, gender equality, and education. Achieving good human development indicators was due to the country having exploited synergistic interactions of health care with basic education, improved water and sanitation, and integrated rural development, including building rural roads. We believe that such investments are imperative if we are to build a productive and entrepreneurial human resource base.
Sri Lanka’s economy has maintained a growth rate of approximately 8% and has achieved a per capita income of US$ 2,400. Post-conflict GDP contribution of the Northern Province was 22%. The significant progress made by Sri Lanka is aptly summed up in the draft UNDP country Programme for Sri Lanka, 2013-2017, which states, “Sri Lanka is at a defining moment in its history. A three-decade war has been brought to an end, creating hope for peace and stability. Despite the war, the 2004 tsunami and the impact of the global recession, the country has achieved middle–income status.”
As a middle-income country, the demands of Sri Lanka’s service sector are high. It provides many new job opportunities that demands diverse skills sets. The Government of Sri Lanka provides training and capacity building to complement the needs and demands of the local, regional and global labour markets. In 2009, Sri Lanka adopted a dedicated policy for skills development, technical and vocational training, human resources development, and lifelong learning. At present, young men and women receive instruction in the English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages. Arrangements are in progress to include German and Spanish to the curriculum. Through this policy, we developed national strategies for different groups to access skills development opportunities.
Women and youth are our priority as we underlined their critical role in the post-2015 development agenda under Rio+20.The government provides tangible incentives for private and foreign investors to establish their enterprises, industrial establishments, ICT outsourcing facilities and tourism related businesses away from the main cities. This allows rural women and youth to work from their homes and also lessen the burden of urban migration. A wide variety of labour laws has also been enforced which addresses employer-employee relationships, social security, industrial safety, terms and conditions of employment, minimum wages.
Sri Lanka has clearly identified the importance of Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) development as a way of creating more employment, bridging regional growth disparities, and ensuring that growth is inclusive and widespread. Several special SME loan schemes sponsored by the government have been launched to improve access to finance and to develop entrepreneurial skills. Sri Lanka’s labour force participation rate remained over 65 per cent during the past two decades. We were also able to employ over 90 per cent of this labour force. This figure has increased to 97.5 per cent in the third quarter of 2011. A significant drop in the unemployment rate from 8.4% to 3.9% was evident during 2003 to 2011. Increased education and health indicators accompanied this achievement and also contributed to reduced poverty rates.
Regardless of the progress achieved, eliminating poverty completely and ensuring decent employment opportunities for all is a continuing challenge for Sri Lanka. This is a common challenge for many other developing countries in the current volatile economic environment. Increasing fuel and food prices, unpredictable financial and economic conditions of development partners and negative impacts of environment degradation further aggravate these challenges. Resource constraints have also impeded efforts at promoting productive capacity. Optimizing resources through productivity enhancing mechanisms is, therefore, crucial to meeting this challenge.
Graduating to middle-income status alone does not guarantee quick or simple solutions to existing development issues, as experienced by Sri Lanka. As an emerging economy, the challenge for Sri Lanka is to achieve sustainable rapid economic growth, whilst integrating itself into the processes of globalization. Collective efforts through the UN system and other multilateral mechanisms should, therefore, focus on minimizing the external shocks created by the current global economic and financial crises. Macroeconomic policy has the potential to promote coordination among all nations to collectively respond to the challenges of the time.
We must recall that our development partners have made commitments at the highest levels, and these commitments must be honored if developing counties are to achieve and surpass their MDGs. In this context, all forms of development partnerships must be explored to achieve an optimal balance among the crucial pillars of sustainable development.
I thank you, Mr. President.