Aug 12, Colombo: After more than a century of merchandising and deal-making, traders in Sri Lanka's retail and wholesale 'Pettah Market' hub are vying for a bigger domain as they prepare to ink many Chamber to Chamber MoUs-and also venture into global trade.
"Once we link with the Chamber by affiliation, next we will go to international affiliations" President of Colombo Business Association (CBA) Dr. D. Venkateshwara said at the launch of "The Pettah Fiesta -2019" in Colombo.
The two-day trade festival organized by Colombo Business Association in collaboration with the Industries and Commerce Ministry commenced along the main street, Colombo on Saturday with the Minister of Industries and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen participating as the Chief Guest.
Speaking after the launch CBA President Dr. Venkateshwara said CBA is the largest Chamber of retail businesses in Sri Lanka and also consisting of wholesale trade members.
"Many think that Pettah trade to be just payment hawkers and peddlers which is far from its real strength. We, the Colombo Business Association (CBA) are a 55,000 member strong trade focal point centered around Pettah and Colombo Fort markets. We are the largest Chamber of retail businesses in Sri Lanka and we also have wholesale trade members."
According to Dr. Venkateshwara the membership of CBA constitutes 23 business and trade associations around the country and packs 55,000 retail and wholesale businesses of all scales-from large to micro, most of them operating in Pettah and Colombo while many are also from other parts of the country such as Kurunegala, Kandy and Northern Province.
"Some of our members, despite known for dealing in retail, are also into import and export trade. As we expand and grow, our members call for a bigger role, recognition," said Dr. Venkateshwara.
Dr. Venkateshwara added that the Pettah Fiesta 2019 is the first such special trade exhibition and carnival in the heart of Sri Lanka's premier business hub in recent times and the first such trade fiesta in the 30 year history of CBA.
"This is to promote the contribution of our members to the consumers and to revive their trade. Also as we have now grown to become a national level Chamber, and very soon CBA will be linking with the Chamber of Commerce though a MoU. Negotiations have already begun in this regard. As a result, CBA will be an affiliated Chamber to it in a few weeks' time."
He said once the CBA is linked with the Chamber by affiliation, it will go to international affiliation next.
"We will be inking a pact with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) also for which talks are continuing at present. We expect to sign MoUs with them before this Christmas. Once we link with ICC, we will send our delegation to overseas and international retail delegations can also visit us in turn. These exchanges could transform our Pettah retail hub to an international business hub and elevate our membership's profile."
He added that the exchanges will not be restricted to FMCG segments but will expand to medical tourism, wellness/Ayurvedic tourism, agro sector, and infrastructure development.
"We are not limiting ourselves to these Chambers only but are also directly and in parallel negotiating with foreign chambers even at this moment. The overseas chambers we are talking to are the Turkish Chamber, and Chambers of Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. As soon as we conclude talks with them we will sign the MoUs at any moment. We are not able to do so right now simply due to this festival's activities and the coming Christmas festival's activities. But these MoUs are coming."
Minister Bathiudeen said that the government is keen to empower small businesses in Colombo to overcome effects of recent bomb blasts.
"I commend CBA for organizing this two-day trade fair to support the wholesale and retail trade of the area, which was badly affected by the Easter Sunday bomb attacks. Businesses belonging to all ethnicities were affected and our government is keen to see that they are revived- this effort showcases businesses and stalls of all traders -belonging to Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims and others-and we are promoting a united Sri Lankan business revival effort here."
The Pettah thoroughfare, initially propagated by Indian, Arab and Parsi traders in the aftermath of Colombo's control vesting on Dutch East India Company ('Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie'-VOC) in 1656, has developed rapidly during the 1815 British rule.
Today the Pettah market is Sri Lanka's largest retail and wholesale hub, transacting an estimated US$ 3.5 - 6 million in its trade, every day.