Govt.’s lethargy towards gem and jewelry sector seen as costing SL $ 1 billion in for-ex annually

By Hiran H.Senewiratne

The government’s lethargy towards the gem and jewelry sector prevented more than US$ 1 billion in foreign exchange from coming into the country per year, a well-known gemologist said.

“Currently Sri Lanka’s gem and jewelry export income is less than US$ 300 per year, which could be developed to a US $ one billion industry if the government adopted proper promotional methods. However, certain countries, such as Hong Kong, where gems are not even available, earn more than US $ 35 billion per year, while in Thailand it is US$ 15 billion dollars, gemologist (FGG – (Germany) FEEG-Europe) Umesh Wariyapperuma said.

Wariyapperuma said that to double this target they proposed to the National Gem and Jewelry Authority (SLGJA) to launch a special online marketing system to sell gems and jewelry worth less than US$ 3,000 to international buyers.

Wariyapperuma added: “To ensure the smooth flow of this scheme we wanted this scheme to be launched in collaboration with the Department of Posts and Sri Lanka Customs.

“With the launch of the online portal, more opportunities will be available for local gem exporters to get access to the international market and it will help to double Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange earnings from the gem industry in the first year of its operation.

“Currently Sri Lanka exports rough stones to Thailand and other countries who in turn add value to them and re-export them to world famous jewelers and watch manufacturers. This deprived us of a valuable opportunity to sell our precious stones at a high value.

“We partnered with SLGJA for the Dubai Expo last year and launched the ‘Sapphire Sri Lanka’ campaign which was a major success. Similarly, the government with the assistance of the Sri Lankan embassies based overseas should conduct similar promotional events as the industry needs direct government assistance for sapphire marketing and promotion campaigns.

“Sri Lanka Tourism too should play an active role in this venture and also promote ‘Sri Lanka Gems’ during their global destination marketing campaigns.

“If the government could launch some of these proposals Sri Lanka can easily reach the gem and jewelry export income target of USD1 billion in less than 18 months.

“Sri Lankan gem traders too should be more responsible and reasonable when marketing gems at exorbitant prices. They should only sell genuine products without cheating the customer to earn a ‘quick buck’.

“Some buyers pay high prices and purchase gems from some Kandy traders and when they come to us they see the huge undue price difference. Hence, traders too should be honest and maintain ethics in marketing as due to the sale of fake gems and high prices our international reputation is tarnished.

“Gem buyers are advised to offer the maximum price for gems found by gem miners as they go through tremendous hardships to extract them.

“My ambition is also to start a gem academy so that young people can get a practical education on proper international standards and also marketing processes in the gem and the mining industry.

“Through my ‘Janamehewara Foundation’ I am personally involved in a CSR program, providing books and school equipment to children of gem industry miners.

“It is said Sri Lanka even supplied gems to Queen Elizabeth’s crown and Princess Diana’s wedding ring and world famous museums also display Sri Lankan gems. However, sadly, we can’t even muster US$ 300 million export revenue from this trade.”

Wariyapperuma who is also the Managing Director / CEO at Ceylon Gem Traders (Pvt) Ltd, set up since 1977, said that several global watch manufacturers use gemstones for their products.

He said Sri Lanka should tap this market as well and try to export directly to watch-making companies in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Britain, and France with local value addition.

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