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Indo-Lanka trade to reach $10 bn by 2016

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Indunil Hewage
Indo-Sri Lanka bi-lateral trade was expected to double to the $10 billion mark by 2016. In 2012, the total trade between India and Sri Lanka reached close to the $ 5 billion mark, said Saman Kelegama, Executive Director, Institute of Policy Studies.

Ashok K Kantha , High Commissioner of India handing over the handbook, India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement to Ministry of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen. Picture by Sumanachandra Ariyawansa
He expressed these views at the launch of the handbook on India- Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement, held in Taj Samudra Hotel, Colombo. Highlighting the outcome of the free trade agreement between Sri Lanka and India over the last 10 years, Dr. Kelegama said that 70 % of Sri Lanka's exports to India was sent under the FTA and only 30% of Indian exports were channeled to Sri Lanka through FTA. “Even if you look at the import export ratio, it was 10 to 1 when the free trade agreement was signed. And currently, it has reduced to 6 to 1,”Kelegama said.

The India-Sri Lanka bi-lateral Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1998, and the agreement has resulted in substantial growth in trade between the two countries. The asymmetry between the two countries was accommodated by having special and differential treatment in favour of Sri Lanka,” Kelegama said.

In 2000, Sri Lankan exports to India amounted to $ 98 million while imports amounted to $ 600 million. In 2011, exports had increased to $ 519 million and imports to $ 4.4 billion partly due to an increase in petroleum imports, which were outside the FTA.

In 1999, India and Sri Lanka were trading 505 different items and over 1,000 items in 2005 and over 2,000 items by 2011.

“So if the free trade agreement was not there some of these additional products may not have gone to the Indian market,” Kelegama said.

India is the largest trading partner in Sri Lanka from both the exports and imports side, while India has become the largest source of imports to Sri Lanka.

Coin toss decides Philippine election contest

PHILIPPINES: A coin toss has decided the lucky winner of mayor for a small Philippine town, after rival candidates were tied at the end the vote count, an election official said Thursday.

The dramatic conclusion to the contest for San Teodoro, a farming town of about 16,000 people in the central Philippines, took place in the local election office, with the politicians tossing the coin to decide their fate.

“They agreed to a coin toss, with the candidate getting the most heads proclaimed the winner,” San Teodoro election chief Reny Pagilagan told AFP.

He said tension built as the first tie-break competition of five coin tosses each also ended in a draw, with both politicians getting two heads, according to Pagilagan.

Marvic Feraren, a member of the ruling Liberal Party, finally emerged the winner in the second tie-break event, throwing two heads to his opponent’s one.

“Both of them accepted the result. They shook hands and embraced,” Pagilagan said.

Pagilagan said Philippine election law stated that tied electoral contests must be settled by the drawing of lots, of which a coin toss was an acceptable variant.

Pagilagan said this week’s event was not unprecedented and he had presided over another coin toss in 2004 to decide the winner of the final seat on a council board for a nearby town.


Sun unleashes four potent solar flares

US: The Sun has unleashed four potent solar flares this week, marking the most intense activity yet this year and causing limited interruptions to high-frequency radio communications.

One of them was classified as an X3.2 flare, with X-class flares being the most intense type, the US space agency said.

“This is the strongest X-class flare of 2013 so far, surpassing in strength the two X-class flares that occurred earlier in the 24-hour period,” NASA said of the flare that peaked at 0111 GMT Tuesday.

A fourth X-class flare peaked at 0148 GMT on Wednesday, NASA said.

Measuring at X1.2, it caused a temporary radio blackout that has since subsided, and was categorized as “strong,” or R3 on a scale of 1 to 5 on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s space weather scales.

The latest flares began on May 13 and have sent off bursts of radiation from the Sun, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). The strongest traveled particularly fast, at a speed of approximately 1,400 miles (2,253 kilometres) per second, NASA said.

The CMEs have so far not been directed at the Earth but may impact satellites.

NASA said the CMEs would produce a merged cloud of solar material that “may give a glancing blow to the STEREO-B and Epoxi spacecraft,” which are space-based observatories orbiting Earth to monitor solar storms and comets.

“Their mission operators have been notified. If warranted, operators can put spacecraft into safe mode to protect the instruments from solar material,” the US space agency said.

Experts say that a rise in solar activity is common right now because the Sun is in a phase of its 11-year activity cycle that is nearing the solar maximum, expected in 2013.

According to space weather experts at NOAA, more strong solar flares may be expected in the coming days.

Although CMEs send off potent radiation, Earth is protected by its magnetic field.


Khan vows to work with Sharif on Pakistan terrorism

PAKISTAN: Pakistani politician Imran Khan on Wednesday vowed to cooperate with incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on terrorism and other major challenges following key elections.

Khan made the remarks from his hospital bed, where he is laid up with a fractured spine after falling at a campaign rally, after his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) polled third place, behind Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N).

“We have decided that despite severe differences that we have, we will work together to resolve major national problems including terrorism,” Khan said in a video message aired during a PTI press conference.

He harshly criticised Sharif and the centre-right PML-N during the campaign for last Saturday’s general election and had vowed to go into opposition. Sharif pledged to work with Khan for the good of the country, after visiting the former cricket star in hospital on Tuesday.

Khan is credited with helping to inspire 60 percent turnout at the polls, having galvanised the youth and urban middle class in particular with promises to end corruption, introduce tax reform and stand up to the Americans.

“Elections are over and we all as a nation want to move forward,” Khan said, adding he wanted all politicians and the military to sit down together and find a solution to domestic terrorism, which has killed thousands of people in Pakistan.

“We cannot ensure prosperity until we eliminate the issue of terrorism,” he said.

Partial official results confirm PML-N on 123 seats, with the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party on 31 and PTI on 26. Another 18 of the 272 directly elected seats in the national assembly are still to be declared.

Khan’s party won the most seats in the Taliban-hit northwest, where he has vowed to put together a provincial coalition government and turn it into a “role model” for the rest of the country. But he alleged Wednesday that vote rigging had taken place in 25 constituencies and said he would ask the election commission to order recounting in at least four.


London Stock Exchange posts sliding profits

The London Stock Exchange Group said that 2012/2013 net profits more than halved, but expressed optimism over the outlook for the current financial year. Earnings after taxation slumped to 217.0 million in the 12 months to the end of March, the LSE said in a results statement.

That compared with 522 million in 2011/2012, when results were skewed by a large exceptional gain on its stake in FTSE International.

The operator of the London Stock Exchange and Italy's Borsa added that total income rose five percent to 852.9 million, up from 814.8 million a year earlier.

That beat analysts' consensus forecast of 837.2 million, Dow Jones Newswires said.

And operating profit fell by just three percent to 348.4 million due in part to an increase in operating expenses.

"In the year ahead, we will remain firmly focused on achieving the expected benefits from recent transactions and investment in new products, as well as continuing to seek new growth opportunities," the LSE said.

"We look ahead with optimism as we continue to develop opportunities to meet the needs of our customers and deliver value for shareholders."

The LSE's French chief executive Xavier Rolet has been at the helm of the group for the past four years. During that time, the LSE has aggressively wooed foreign companies from all over the world to list in London.

It had also sought to enlarge its business via a string of acquisitions.


Airtel Lanka rewards top performers

Airtel Lanka recently held their Annual Dealer Convention 2013 to reward their pioneer distributors, retailers and Sales Teams for their outstanding performances throughout the last year.

The winners were chosen based on the final results of Airtel Pranama, an incentive scheme for performing retailers. Airtel Pranama was launched at the beginning of the 2012 financial year, where a promise was made by Airtel Lanka to recognize and reward Sales Teams (which included Distributors, Retailers and Field Sales Personnel) for their valuable contribution made towards achieving set targets.

True to their promise, the company rewarded their top performers with various category based awards which also included an all expenses paid foreign travel to the Land of the Angels, Bangkok.

The ceremony was held at the Grand Ball Room, Water's Edge, Battaramulla, a mega celebration which saw over 400 participants which included Distributors, Retailers and Sales Personnel.

ComBank MoneyGram's 'Most Productive Network' in South Asia

The Commercial Bank of Ceylon has been adjudged the Most Productive Network in South Asia in 2012 for MoneyGram, the global funds transfer company.

This is the second successive year that the Bank received this award, which was presented at MoneyGram's Regional Conference in Jodhpur, India. Commercial Bank is one of the preferred networks for MoneyGram beneficiaries because of its network of 231 branches and service points in Sri Lanka. Funds can be collected even on holidays, at over 50 holiday banking centres of the Bank. In order to ensure a speedy pay out, the Bank has set up dedicated counters at some of its key locations popular for remittances.

Pictured here is Commercial Bank Assistant General Manager Operations Palitha Perera (extreme right) at the ceremony with MoneyGram Officials.


SLT Group records Rs 2.03 bn PBT for 1Q-13

Sri Lanka Telecom PLC (SLT) released financial performance of its Group and Company for the first quarter 2013.

The group has recorded a Rs.14.45 bn revenue, with 5% year on year growth during the quarter. Strategic initiatives engaged particularly in the mobile sector together with the expansion of broadband and data services through i-Sri Lanka program have complemented the growth of group revenue.

Nimal Welgama
During the quarter under review, the group reported a Net Profit Before Tax (NPBT)of Rs. 2.03 bn and Net Profit After Tax (NPAT) of Rs. 1.60 bn. This is an impressive growth of 90% and 226% respectively compared to that of the previous year, which was negatively impacted by Rs. 1.4 bn foreign currency conversion loss. Compared to previous quarter the improvement of Group NPBT and NPAT was 48% and 83%. Increase in operating costs mainly driven by inflationary factors, has diluted the group EBITDA margin to 32% from 36% during the same period in the previous year.In line with increased profits, Group annualized Earnings Per Share (EPS) has been increased from Rs.1.09 in 1st quarter 2012 to Rs.3.55 during the quarter under review.

At the Company level, Rs. 8.70 bn revenue was reported with a marginal growth of 1% compared to the corresponding quarter of the previous year. Rapid increase of operating costs has eroded the Net Profit Before Tax and Net Profit After Tax of the quarter under review by 46% and 48% respectively to Rs. 1.06 bn and Rs. 0.78 bn.

SLT has moved onto a period of growth with the appointment of Group CEO Lalith De Silva in February 2013, who has extensive experience in the telecommunication and IT sector.

Commenting on the performance of the company, Lalith De Silva stressed the importance of adopting a synergistic approach within the group to facilitate rapid growth in terms of financials as well as to provide an enhanced service experience to the customers.

In the face of intense competition, Mobitel was able to report a healthy performance recording a growth in both subscribers and revenue.

Revenue for the first quarter of 2013 grew by10 % to Rs 6.6 bn compared to the same quarter in the previous year. The revenue growth was duly supported by timely investments in network infrastructure for capacity building and coverage expansion.

This in turn resulted in an increase in customer base by 14% in comparison to the first quarter of previous year. This growth was achieved despite the Sri Lankan mobile market reaching saturation by end of 2012 according TRCSL sources.

Mobitel reported improvement in all key profitability indicators EBITDA, EBIT and NPAT during the first quarter of 2013 compared to same period in previous year. The growth achieved in overall revenue which increased by Rs 0.58 bn continues to be reflected across profitability indicators with EBITDA and EBIT growing by 3% and 5% respectively.

This was a result of continuous efforts to manage costs while striving for optimum asset utilization. For the first quarter of 2013 Mobitel reported an After Tax Profit of Rs.0.64 bn as against Rs.0.95 bn losses in the first quarter of 2012 mainly brought about by the depreciation of the rupee in the early part of 2012. Therefore the NPAT growth achieved for the period is 167 % in comparison to the same period of previous year.

According to Nimal Welgama, Chairman SLT Group, SLT is now ready to deploy high investments in Infotainment, expansion of International cables, Data and Broadband services and expansion of IT systems.


Economic Development Ministry launches ‘Matching Grant Scheme

As Sri Lanka embarks on a journey to become the “Wonder of Asia”, Ministry of Economic Development has introduced a Matching Grant Scheme under the “Mahinda Chintana Vision for the Future” to support the tourism related SMEs and strengthen the local economy through sustainable tourism development.

Vice-President, Global Alliance and Channels, Infor, Jeff Abbot
Accordingly the Ministry of Economic Development has made available a sum of Rs. 2,000 million with a credit facility from the World Bank as an out-right grant for the development of tourism and tourism related Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’S).

Thereby, the Ministry of Economic Development will bear the cost for either 50% of the project value or a maximum of Rs. 10 million of any SME project under the tourism industry.

It is the government’s belief that the SME sector would bridge the gap between large scale corporates and micro level enterprises there by further contributing towards the objective of strengthening the economy of the country.

This Matching Grant Scheme will be administered by People’s Bank under the direction of the Ministry of Economic Development. People’s Bank as the matching admintrator ban brings forward over 50 years of experience in dealing with financial services relating to many ministries in the country and with an extensive branch network of over 725 and owning up to 24 SME sectors testified as the most qualified financial institution to manage the funding of this grant. Through this project it is estimated that almost 1500 SMEs belonging to the industry will receive benefits while 2000 new job opportunities will also be created. The project will also improve the technical and managerial skills of almost 5000 persons and it is expected to bring an additional investment of Rs. 5000 million towards tourism and tourism related SME’s. As per the recent analytics tourist arrivals for the year 2010 stood at 650,000 while this number increased to 1,005605 in 2012. The Government of Sri Lanka has arrived at steps to increase tourist arrivals to 2.5 Million in 2016 and to 4 Million by the year 2020.

Through such figures it is estimated that the country will receive an income of USD 3 Billion in 2016 and USD 8 Billion in 2020 in terms of foreign exchange earnings.

However in order to achieve these targets, certain drawbacks prevailing in the SME sector need to be identified and necessary steps need to be taken. It is important to create an environment that satisfy tourist which will result in re-visits and promote Sri Lanka as one of the best holiday destinations in the world.

Dipped Products Group crosses Rs 2 bn PBT in 2012/2013

Dipped Products PLC, the Hayleys Group subsidiary that accounts for 5% of the global non-medical rubber glove market, posted strong financial performance for 2012/2013. In a filing to the Colombo Stock Exchange, Dipped Products reported a growth in turnover of 20% equating to Rs. 23.7 bn and a profit before tax of Rs. 2.2 bn in the 12 months ending March 31, 2013.

Dr. Mahesha Ranasoma                                          Mohan Pandithage
Group’s Hand Protection sector crossed the Rs 1 bn PBT threshold for the second consecutive year, whilst the Plantation sector contributed Rs. 963 mn to the Group PBT.

The Hand Protection sector increased turnover by 9% to Rs. 14.7 bn with revenue from glove manufacturing operations improving 10% to Rs. 11.2 bn. Turnover from Sri Lankan glove manufacturing operations improved by 9% to Rs. 8.6 bn, while Dipped Products (Thailand) Ltd, the medical glove manufacturing operation, increased turnover by 11% to Rs. 2.5 bn. Contribution from ICOGUANTI S.p.A, the Company’s Italian marketing operation rose by 4% to Rs. 4.1 bn. The Plantation sector recorded a turnover of Rs. 9.8 bn, an approximate 40% YoY growth.

Overall market conditions in Europe remained challenging during the year. With Europe accounting for nearly 40% of the Group’s business these conditions were successfully countered by the Company’s concentrated investments into marketing and efforts to gain deeper insights on changing customer needs. Speaking on the performance of DPL, Chairman, Mohan Pandithage cited the Company’s pre-emptive marketing strategies as core to its ability to overcome the otherwise tough challenges in global markets. “DPL’s engagement process with existing and new customers enabled the Company to offer solutions that better matched their market requirements”, noted Pandithage. The intensive marketing efforts during the year also enabled DPL to penetrate into new markets such as Eastern Europe including Russia.

Managing Director, Dr. Mahesha Ranasoma cited that in addition to marketing efforts internal cost management through Lean Manufacturing was key to the year-end performance whilst declining natural rubber prices through the year enabled a favourable price regime.

In December 2012, DPL was named winner of the Asia Responsible Entrepreneurship Awards 2012 for Southeast Asia, in the ‘Investment in People’ category in recognition of the Company’s efforts towards championing sustainable and responsible entrepreneurship. DPL’s operations are grounded on a few powerful beliefs; being an ethical glove manufacturer, integrating sustainability principles into business and uncompromising quality.

Established in 1976, Dipped Products is one of the leading non-medical rubber glove manufacturers in the world, and accounts for a five percent share of the global market. The company’s products now reach 68 countries.

source ;

Mexican volcano rumbles, but residents shrug it off

MEXICO: Mexico's Popocatepetl volcano has blown steam for days, prompting authorities to prepare for possible evacuations, but residents are used to their towering neighbour's rumblings and keep fearlessly heading to work.

Popocatepetl, which means "smoking mountain" in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, spewed more steam, gas and ash that rose three kilometres (two miles) above the crater early Tuesday, according to the National Disaster Prevention Center. National civil protection coordinator Luis Enrique Puentes said the volcano was "totally calm" following the eruption, which belched out glowing rocks. While there was no immediate need to evacuate the population, the volcano could erupt again Wednesday, he added.

The volcano, which is 55 kilometres (34 miles) southeast of Mexico City, has also rumbled and spewed molten rocks in recent days. Last week, it covered several towns in ash, including the capital of Puebla state.

Authorities have raised the alert level to "Yellow Phase Three," the fifth of a seven-stage warning system, restricting access to an area of 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) around the volcano and preparing evacuation routes. But people living in the nearby town of Santiago Xalitzintla appear calm despite the activity inside the 5,452-meter (17,887-foot) high volcano, known locally as "Gregorio" or "Don Goyo" and considered a magical rainmaker by indigenous populations.

"We go out, we look at it and we go back to sleep very soundly," said Guadalupe de Santiago, balancing a basket of candy on her head near a church in this town just 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) south of the volcano.


Bangladesh disaster site to become rehab centre

BANGLADESH: Bangladesh plans to take over the site of the collapsed nine-storey building which killed 1,127 people and convert it into a rehabilitation centre for the victims, a minister said Tuesday.

"Our Prime Minister (Sheikh Hasina) wants this place to be taken over by the government and convert it to such a system that it can rehabilitate those who have died here or are affected," deputy minister for local government Jahangir Kabir Nanak told reporters.

He made the comments after the army concluded the search for the dead at the doomed building 20 days after what was known as Rana Plaza collapsed outside the country's capital Dhaka.

Violating almost every construction law, the structure imploded on April 24, trapping garment workers who were on shift in the building at the time.

Nearly 2,500 people were pulled out alive by hundreds of army, fire service and volunteer rescue workers.

Authorities have arrested the owner of the building, Sohel Rana, a low-level ruling party official, after a massive man-hunt. He has been charged with causing death due to negligence and violating building laws.


US drone makes first catapult launch off a carrier

US: The US Navy successfully launched an unmanned plane off the deck of an aircraft carrier for the first time Tuesday, in what officials called a breakthrough for robotic aviation.

The bat-winged X-47B drone took to the air after being launched by a catapult aboard the George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier off the coast of Virginia, a Navy spokeswoman said.

“I can confirm it was successfully launched at 11:18 am (1518 GMT),” Navy Lieutenant Katie Cerezo told AFP.

The aircraft carried out several low approaches to the carrier before landing in Maryland at the US naval air station at Patuxent River after a 65-minute flight, the Navy said.

The test flight marked the first catapult launch of a robotic, unmanned plane from a carrier at sea, and Navy officers called it a “milestone.” “This historic event challenges the paradigm of manned carrier landings that were first conducted more than 90 years ago,” Rear Admiral Mat Winter, who oversees unmanned aviation for the Navy, wrote on the service's website.

The experimental aircraft, which looks like a smaller version of the B-2 stealth bomber, is supposed to clear the way for a new line of drones that would carry out bombing raids from a carrier.

The Air Force and Army already have a large fleet of robotic aircraft but the Navy hopes to catch up with the X-47B, the unmanned Fire Scout helicopter and other drones that can stay in the air for hours to spy or attack an adversary.


40 YEARS LATER, is Skylab II on the horizon?

40 YEARS LATER, is Skylab II on the horizon?
US: Four decades after the United States’ first space station roared into orbit, a second version of the groundbreaking craft may be on the horizon.NASA launched the Skylab space station 40 years ago Tuesday (May 14), turning the modified third stage of a Saturn V moon rocket into Amerca's first off-Earth astronaut abode. Now, a team of researchers inspired by this recycling ethos has proposed transforming part of another rocket into “Skylab II,” which could become the nation's first-ever manned outpost in deep space.

“This one is a big look backwards — 40 years, in fact,” said Brand Griffin, an engineer with Gray Research, Inc., who works with the Advanced Concepts Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The original Skylab supported three manned missions in 1973 and 1974, during which three-astronaut crews lived aboard the station for 28, 59 and 84 days, respectively. The 85-ton station continued orbiting Earth until 1979, when it re-entered the planet's atmosphere and famously rained debris down on a stretch of Western Australia.

Nobody was hurt, but the Australian town of Esperance charged NASA $400 for littering. The fine went unpaid until 2009, when California radio DJ Scott Barley took care of it after collecting donations from his listeners.

Like the first Skylab, the proposed Skylab II would be built from a piece of a giant NASA rocket — in this case, the Space Launch System (SLS), which the agency is developing to blast astronauts toward asteroids, Mars and other destinations in deep space.

Skylab II would make use of the SLS’ upper-stage hydrogen propellant tank, which Griffin said would provide an internal volume of 17,481 cubic feet (495 cubic m) — roughly equivalent to a two-story house, and significantly more than the original Skylab's 12,713 cubic feet (360 cubic m).


India unveils vaccine for diarrhoea virus

INDIA: Scientists unveiled Tuesday an affordable vaccine against a deadly diarrhoea - causing virus that kills over 100,000 children in India every year.

Rotavirus, which causes dehydration and severe diarrhoea, is globally responsible for around 453,000 deaths annually and is particularly threatening in Africa and Asia, where access to urgent healthcare is often out of reach.

K. Vijaraghavan, secretary of India's Department of Biotechnology which steered the hunt for an affordable rotavirus vaccine, said it was a product of international cooperation, although it has yet to be approved by New Delhi.

“The result is a world-class vaccine for India's children,” he told a press conference in New Delhi.

“For the first time we have taken a vaccine from the earliest discovery to every stage of development and that is a very remarkable thing for India,” he said, adding that the dollar-a-dose oral vaccine was ready for production.

The vaccine named Rotavac will be manufactured by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech pharmaceutical firm which has said it has the capacity to mass produce 60 million doses after clearance is given. Each vaccination consists of three doses.

Rotavirus is blamed for causing up to 884,000 hospitalisations in India a year, at a cost to the country of 3.4 billion rupees ($72 million), scientists say.

“We have (now) added to our know-how and capacity in ways which will pay dividends for development of future solutions,” said Vijaraghavan.

Each dose of licenced vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline and Merc cost around 1,000 rupees ($18), said Sushmita Malaviya of PATH, an international healthcare organisation which is also part of the Rotavac programme.

M.K. Bhan, who pioneered the project after local scientists discovered a localised rotavirus 23 years ago in a New Delhi hospital, said the development was a boon for India's creaky public health service.

“Total 25 percent of all diarrhoeal admissions would be prevented by this and that means you will have 25 percent less diarrhoeal illnesses of severe nature in India which is a very substantial public health gain,” he said.

“We have a good vaccine which will be useful and we will do post-marketing surveillance and keep accumulating more experience.” More than 300,000 babies die within 24 hours of being born in India each year from infections and other preventable causes, according to a report last week by Save the Children.


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