Free zones play a pivotal role in encouraging imports as it helps minimize and control duty and other explicit costs. In this context, located in the centre of the largest and busiest maritime shipping route in the world, the East-West Main Sea Route (MSR) in Sri Lanka is a convenient geo-strategic location on the Maritime Silk Route that serves as a resourceful freeport, maritime and logistics hub.
Sri Lanka, as a free zone, boasts of more than 650 ships that pass-by daily through the East-West Main Sea Route. Last year alone accounted for approximately 4,700 ships which have been called at the Sri Lankan ports. In addition, Sri Lanka’s sea export and import volumes had amounted to approximately 850,000 containers, excluding transhipment volumes.
Owing to its geopolitical advantages, Sri Lanka was transformed into an economic center through a ’05 Hub’ concept. The concept includes; a naval & maritime hub, an aviation hub, a commercial hub, an energy hub and a knowledge hub. Out of these, the naval and maritime hub recognises three major ports. They are;
The Colombo Port
Governed by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, it not only holds the 12th rank amongst the best-connected ports in the world but also possess the ability to capacitate around 20 million containers per annum and operates within 33 major shipping lines.
Hambantota International Port
Used for both domestic and international trade, the Hambantota International Port is conveniently located in close proximity to active international shipping routes.
It is known to be the second-best natural deep-water harbour in the world.
Sri Lanka is progressing towards upgrading the international and domestic airports, including Katunayake, Mattala, Jaffna and Ratmalana in order to transform into an aviation hub.
It is along the lines of these progressive goals, that the doorways to the Freeport concept was established by the Finance Act - Commercial Hub Regulation. The Act constitutes a series of legislations facilitating commercial hub operations introduced by the Sri Lankan government to reap the maximum benefit of Sri Lanka’s strategic location in the Indian ocean and its increasing shipping volume.
A freeport/Free zone in a nutshell is capable of importing goods via a green channel, which is the passage taken by the arriving passengers at the port, who have no goods to declare. Once imported, value additions in terms of minor processing are carried out after which they are re-exported on behalf of its clients while being exempted from the Customs Ordinance, Foreign Exchange Act and Imports and Exports (Control) Act.
Therefore, a Free zone is essentially a gateway connected to sea or airport, for companies to operate while deferring taxes, with favourable customs regulations, until their goods are shipped to their desired locations. In this regard, Sri Lanka performs equally efficient and more cost-effectively than any other Freeport in the region, given the innumerable advantages from its natural location.
For instance, the Katunayake Freeport is currently the most active Freeport, operating efficiently towards Sri Lanka’s journey of being a global logistics powerhouse.
Expolanka Holdings, a global logistics conglomerate took the first step and launched the EFL Global Freeport in Katunayake in 2013.
Becoming the 1st Commercial Freeport in Sri Lanka, this initiative was aimed at supporting the government’s goal of establishing Sri Lanka as a global logistics hub.
Conveniently located within immediate vicinity to the airport and the harbour, the EFL 3PL Freeport is only a one-kilometre distance from the Katunayake International Airport, and a 25-minute drive from the Colombo Port.
And today, EFL Global Freeport is the only freeport that is the most compliant freeport on the island, to function under the expertise of a highly trained and skilled global staff, guaranteeing agility, scalability, accuracy and integrity.
With customised storage solutions and the utilisation of modern material handling equipment, the EFL Global Freeport offers a range of services such as; multi-country consolidation, entrepot operations, bonded warehousing solutions, on-site clearance, transport and value-added services. Furthermore, the goods undergo a quality control process within a client-specific inspection area. The freeport is also permitted to perform Front End Services, Headquarter Operations and Offshore Businesses.
Hence, by and large, Freeport initiative is undoubtedly a strategic tool to generate revenue for the country and inspires novel logistics solutions for business ventures both locally and globally.