03 September 2009

FACETS 2009 - Sri Lanka Gem and Jewellery Exhibition Draws New Buyers

3rd September 2009, www.lankabusinessonline.com

Sri Lanka opened an international gem and jewellery exhibition aimed at attracting buyers from new markets as traditional Western markets decline, with some exporters reporting strong demand despite recession.

"We're now focusing on new emerging economies like China, Russia and India," Chanaka Ellawala, chairman of the organizing committee for the FACETS 2009 gem and jewellery exhibition, said.

"The idea of staging an international exhibition in Colombo came with the intention of reinstating its hub status that was slipping away from us."

The show, being held just four months after the island's 30-year ethnic war ended, has drawn several new buyers and foreign exhibitors, he said in a speech at the exhibition's formal opening Thursday.

The defeat by government forces of Tamil Tiger rebels in May also offers new opportunities for the trade.

"After 19 years of staging this exhibition, a huge opportunity has now arisen due to the new-found peace," Ellawala, himself a top gem exporter, said.

"The global economic meltdown is a major challenge as our traditional markets in the US, Europe and Japan have been affected the most."

Delegations from China, Russia and Burma are among the foreign visitors at the show.

Some Sri Lankan exhibitors said the economic crisis has not affected demand for gems.

Saman Amarasena, managing director of Swiss Cut & Design, said the economic slowdown has had no impact on the company which specialises in cutting gem stones for Rolex wristwatches.

"The economic crisis has not affected us," he said. "These are luxury watches. They still buy them. They pay a high rate for the stone and cutting."

Amarasena said the gem and jewellery business in general had suffered from the economic slowdown but there were signs that the market was turning around.

"There was a downturn in general but you'll see a change by the end of the year. I believe the worst is over."

Sri Lanka's investment promotion minister Anura Yapa said the end of the war, which had deterred investors, meant the island's investment climate had improved.

"The ingredients sought by investors are present in full measure in Sri Lanka today. Now is the time for investors to get engaged in projects."

With tourist arrivals on the increase there will be many opportunities to improve sales of gems and jewellery, he said.

A team of Russian officials were at the show to buy stocks of blue sapphires and rubies, he added.

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