Sri Lankan consumers seen cheated by protectionist lobbies

Mar 16, 2012 (LBO) – Powerful protectionist lobbies and lack of awareness are denying Sri Lankan consumers the benefits of free trade which could significantly reduce costs if more imports are allowed from neighbouring countries, a new study said. Opposition from influential business groups to the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with India, to replace the existing free trade deal, meant it was politically safer for the government to stall in the negotiations, Abayasekara said.

The study found that consumers were generally unaware of the consumer welfare benefits of liberalising trade.

“Most consumer groups have limited knowledge and little or no representation in the trade policy-making process, as opposed to lobby groups among domestic producers and industrialists which make it easier for political forces to align with local businesses,” Abayasekara said.

The study also noted misleading publicity campaigns telling consumers that buying local products is ‘patriotic’. Consumers as a group form a strong political constituency and should be better organised to influence trade policy making bodies just like protectionist business lobbies do, said Ashani Abayasekara, a researcher at the Institute of Poli