This note collects evidence related to possible constraints to economic growth, and their relation with GoSL’s industrial zone development agenda. We find that new zones are especially well-suited to help address Sri Lanka’s lack of industrial land and high policy uncertainty, both of which may be holding back growth. Less clear, however, are zones’ impact on Sri Lanka’s limited transport links beyond the Western Province. Finally, partnering with well-connected zone management companies may also help create opportunities to connect with firms in new, non-traditional sectors.
Economies grow by adding new products and services to their production portfolio, not by producing more of the same kinds of products. The key to such diversification is access to know-how, but know-how often has to come from abroad. This is because it is often easier to move brains to new countries than to move new know-how into brains. In the experience of Singapore, India, Vietnam and most other dynamic economies, three channels of know-how transfer stand out: FDI, immigration and diaspora networks.
In this lecture, Professor Hausmann explores the relationship between economic development and the accumulation of know-how. In particular, he discusses how to tackle Sri Lanka’s limited export diversification.
Video - Acessing Know-how for Growth in Sri Lanka
Video - Full Q&A on Sri Lanka's export diversification
Throughout 2016, CID conducted a growth diagnostic analysis for Sri Lanka in collaboration with the Government of Sri Lanka, led by the Prime Minister’s Policy Development Office (PDO), and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). This presentation report aggregates collaborative quantitative and qualitative analysis undertaken by the research team. This analysis was originally provided to the Government of Sri Lanka in April 2017 in order to make available a record of the detailed technical work and CID’s interpretations of the evidence. A written executive summary is provided here as a complement to the detailed presentation report. Both the report and the executive summary are structured as follows. First, the analysis identifies Sri Lanka’s growth problem. It then presents evidence from diagnostic tests to identify what constraints are most responsible for this problem. Finally, it provides a summary of what constraints CID interprets as most binding and suggests a “growth syndrome” that underlies the set of binding constraints.
In brief, this growth diagnostic analysis shows that economic growth in Sri Lanka is constrained by the weak growth of exports, particularly from new sectors. Compared to other countries in the region, Sri Lanka has seen virtually no diversification of exports over the last 25 years, especially in manufactured goods linked through FDI-driven, global value chains. We found several key causes behind this lack of diversified exports and FDI: Sri Lanka’s ineffective land-use governance, underdeveloped industrial and transportation infrastructure, and a very high level of policy uncertainty, particularly in tax and trade policy. We believe that these issues trace back to an underlying problem of severe fragmentation in governance, with a critical lack of coordination between ministries and agencies with overlapping responsibilities and decision-making authority.
In late 2015, CID was requested to conduct an initial analysis of constraints to sustained and inclusive economic growth in Sri Lanka. The findings of this analysis were presented at the Sri Lanka Economic Forum in Colombo in January 2016. This presentation outlined the initial findings and offered a series of questions that were then discussed at length with policymakers and academics during the two-day forum. The initial analysis found that recent growth and the sustainability of growth moving forward are constrained by weakness in Sri Lanka’s balance of payments, where a trade imbalance combined with low levels of foreign direct investment effectively puts a speed limit on economic growth. While monetary and exchange rate policy could be used to soften this constraint, solving the underlying problem requires structural transformation, which has proven difficult in Sri Lanka. At the same time, the analysis identified the government’s inability to raise revenues as a major risk that threatens to be more binding moving forward. Finally, the analysis identified the primary dimensions of inequality in the country as between regions and between cities and rural areas.