Lankan giant coming to Thailand
Local JV to build jewellery plant, pursue e-commerce ventures
Ceylinco Consolidated, Sri Lanka's largest company and most diversified conglomerate, spoke last week of coming to Thailand with e-commerce focused on jewellery, real estate and agricultural machinery.
On Thursday it signed an agreement with Commonwealth Commercials Co Ltd to form a joint venture in Thailand named Ceylinco Consolidated (Thailand) Co Ltd. Its initial investment is US$1 million (Bt39 million), with the Thai investor holding 51 per cent and the remainder under the control of Ceylinco Consolidated.
In an interview with The Nation, Lalith Kotelawala, chairman of the company, said Thailand's current political volatility had not dented his confidence.
"It's an internal problem. We are businessmen with interests spread over several countries, and we believe such internal problems don't affect foreign investment or a country's economic growth," he said.
Ceylinco Consolidated, one of the world's most diversified companies, has invested in more than 200 countries around the globe, including India, China, the United Arab Emirates, the US, Bangladesh, Singapore and Malaysia. Thailand is the third Asean country it has entered.
The company picked Thailand as it liked the country's geographical position, which would make for easy e-commerce links with other mainland countries. He expects that e-commerce will help small and medium-sized enterprises increase their competitive efficiency vis-a-vis larger companies.
The company's first Thai e-commerce project has got going with an initial capital between Bt3 million and Bt5 million. It has to be finished in three months.
Ceylinco has decided to build a factory in Thailand and collaboratively market branded fashion jewellery. It is studying land development for tourism housing in Thailand.
Back home, the company plans to join hands with Bumrungrad Hospital for an investment in the hospital sector. Sri Lanka, he said, needed to know how to run good hospitals, and this would teach Ceylinco the technology involved.
Ceylinco's interests to date have been in financing, real estate, leasing, travel, cars, international trading, jewellery and education, with banking and insurance constituting its core areas of operation.
Kotelawala is a visionary. He thinks that wherever there are people there will be demand for everything they need and it is his job to respond to it. He is planning an expansion drive over the next five years.
Ceylinco's Thai joint venture will familiarise it with the local way of life, giving it an insight into what the people require.
"We want very good relationships with the people here," said Kotelawala.
In Sri Lanka alone, Ceylinco posted revenue of $1 billion last year.
Queried about the Bimstec free-trade agreement (FTA) among seven nations in South and Southeast Asia, Kotelawala said he hoped it would bolster trading ties between Thailand and Sri Lanka, besides increasing investments.
Although all FTA negotiations have been suspended because of the dissolution of Parliament, he thinks the agreement will proceed by the consent of all the parties before the year is out. Prior to its current spell of unrest, Thailand agreed to sign before July.
The FTA will cover more than 90 per cent of the total trade among Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand, though the service and investment sectors are excluded for the moment.
The company is exploring opportunities for making jewellery and trading in rubies in Burma.