Ambassador Mahinda Samarasinghe underscores the importance of engaging with fellow Sri Lankans living overseas
Q: In brief, what are the current trade opportunities for Sri Lankan exporters in the United States?
A: The US became Sri Lanka’s largest export destination over many years, accounting for more than 26 percent of its global exports last year and offering trade opportunities for many Sri Lankan products in the American market.
There are opportunities for Sri Lankan garments, value-added rubber products (including tyres, gloves and other such products), precious and semiprecious stones, cinnamon and pepper, coconut-based products, tea, activated carbon and wooden toys to name a few key exportable products.
Q: As far as bilateral trade is concerned, what is your mandate and how are you pursuing it?
A: The mandate centres on strengthening bilateral trade relations between Sri Lanka and the United States. In this regard, we are trying to facilitate interested Sri Lankan exporters to establish business links with American companies to increase their exports to the US market.
To this end, we’ve established excellent relations with the US Department of Commerce and other relevant American counterparts.
CV IN A NUTSHELL
Ambassador Mahinda Samarasinghe served as an officer of the Sri Lanka Overseas Service at the Sri Lanka High Commission in Canberra and Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the UN in Geneva.
Thereafter, he assumed the roles of provincial councillor and provincial minister from 1988 to 1994, and was a member of parliament and cabinet minister holding several ministerial portfolios between 1994 and 2021.
He has held posts such as Chief Government Whip, Chief Opposition Whip, chair of several parliamentary select committees, President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians in Geneva and leader of Sri Lankan delegations to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva.
Samarasinghe also served as the Minister of Human Rights and Special Envoy of the President of Sri Lanka during and following the civil conflict. He is an avid golf enthusiast.
Q: What other areas of work are you engaged in?
A: Apart from trade, we have engaged closely with counterparts in the Department of State, White House, Department of the Treasury and Department of Defense, as well as the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Since taking up my post in December 2021, I’ve reached out to and met nearly 50 members of Congress – from both the House and Senate – on both sides of the aisle. I meet regularly with these interlocutors, and brief and provide them with updates on progress in Sri Lanka.
This close engagement has borne fruit in terms of greater understanding and tangible support for the nation’s recovery.
Since my arrival we’ve developed strong relationships with the multilateral lending institutions based in Washington D.C. – the IMF and World Bank. Establishing contact was one of my priorities as far back as December 2021 with a view to initiating an International Monetary Fund programme to address the negative impact of the developing situation in Sri Lanka.
Our meetings with Kristalina Georgieva – the Managing Director of the IMF – were the genesis of obtaining the IMF’s extended fund facility (EFF) in March.
Q: And in general, how does the embassy in Washington D.C. help Sri Lankans residing in the US?
A: Our role is multifaceted. The litmus test of the value of our efforts is how they accrue to the benefit of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans. Everything we do must be viewed through this lens and evaluated accordingly.
From direct help through consular operations to engagement in investment promotions, facilitating trade and commercial ties, and promoting tourism to Sri Lanka, we seek to build bridges for Sri Lankans living overseas to their motherland.
On the political front, we need to maintain friendly relations with all countries and be an active part of the community of nations, which can be achieved through robust engagement at the bilateral and multilateral levels. This contributes to a more just global order that eventually helps all Sri Lankans.
Bachelor of Economics (Hons.)
(La Trobe University – Melbourne)
Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the
United States of America, Mexico
and Trinidad & Tobago
COUNTRY OF RESIDENCE
CITY OF RESIDENCE
Q: You have helped send essential medicines etc. to Sri Lanka in recent months. What expectations do donors have when they help us?
A: We are fortunate to have secured several millions of dollars in aid and assistance from the US.
Apart from the generous official assistance – especially during the pandemic – we also reached out to and approached non-governmental charitable foundations and philanthropic organisations in the United States. We obtained US$ 27 million in lifesaving medicines over the past 12 months free of charge – and our efforts continue.
As for donor expectations, their main concerns are that aid is properly targeted and the most deserving beneficiaries are the eventual recipients. To generate more assistance, it is necessary that we confirm that the neediest segments of the population – i.e. the most vulnerable – receive this aid and provide confirmation through timely reporting to the donors.
Q: Whose diplomatic career inspires you – and why?
A: It is difficult to pick one diplomat of Sri Lankan origin who inspired me as a young foreign service diplomatic officer in the 1980s and later, during my years in politics. Many distinguished diplomats have served in bilateral and multilateral posts, and assumed high positions in international organisations.
Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to meet many of these personalities. I experienced their individual approaches firsthand and studied their career paths with great interest. Some hailed from the overseas or foreign service, and others from diverse professions and fields of endeavour.
Among them, some attributes stand out – viz. experience and expertise, a professional work ethic, a commitment to achieve goals and above all, a sense of duty to country and one’s countrymen. I have tried to assimilate the best of all these qualities.
“The litmus test of the value of our efforts is how they accrue to the benefit of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans”