By Uwin Lugoda
Sri Lanka’s ceramic industry has its fingers crossed for lesser regulation of mining practices under the new Government in order to improve productivity and reduce imports.
Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business on the sidelines of the 16th annual general meeting (AGM) of Sri Lanka Ceramics and Glass Council (SLCGC), the Council’s newly elected President and Midaya Ceramic Company (Pvt.) Ltd. Managing Director Anura Warnakulasooriya stated that the industry is facing problems with mining regulations that make getting a mining license for clay difficult.
“We are currently facing problems with mining regulation and also due to too many institutions being involved in getting a mining license,” he said.
Warnakulasooriya stated that even if companies were to get a mining license, the extent of the license is only around 20 perches, which makes it difficult to do a proper job and mine the best clay for refining. This has led to industry players to import both kaolin clay and ball clay, which could otherwise be mined in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is home to several clay deposits, out of which high-quality kaolin can be mined in Meetiyagoda in the Southern Province.
According to Warnakulasooriya, while there had been problems with mining practices in the past, the industry now adheres to proper mining practices.
Taking Lanka Ceramic PLC as an example, Warnakulasooriya stated that the company was the only one carrying out proper clay mining, but has ceased operations due to the industry being unrewarding.
“Lanka Ceramic formerly sold kaolin clay to Noritake Lanka Porcelain, but they were not able to provide as per the quality requirement. Therefore, Noritake discontinued purchasing from the company and Lanka Ceramic’s operations ceased,” he added.
Warnakulasooriya stated that this has caused the income that could have stayed within Sri Lanka to flow to countries like China, Thailand, and Vietnam. He went on to state that despite the labour cost being around double than that of Sri Lanka, having in-house raw materials has increased productivity of the ceramic industries in these countries, thereby giving them a competitive edge.
A similar sentiment was shared by Noritake Lanka Porcelain (Pvt.) Ltd. Chairman and Managing Director Hidenori Tanaka during his speech at the AGM held on 21 November.
Noritake Lanka Porcelain is a top Japanese tableware exporter that currently has a factory in Sri Lanka. It was a founding company of the SLGCC.
During his speech, Tanaka emphasised the need to revive kaolin mining in Sri Lanka in order to reduce imports. He explained that one of Sri Lanka’s strengths is the availability of good quality raw materials. However, despite this, the mining of clay such as kaolin has stopped, forcing ceramic manufacturers to import kaolin.
Tanaka further stated that the Council is currently working with Lanka Ceramic and other local authorities in order to try and restart kaolin manufacturing in Sri Lanka. “We are facing many difficulties and challenges. I hope a combined effort will be able to help the industry in the future,” he added.
Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, Lanka Ceramic General Manager Kamal Kudahetty stated that while mining licenses are issued by the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, once an application is submitted, the Bureau requests clearances from institutions such as the divisional secretariat, Department of Archaeology, Urban Development Authority, and Central Environmental Authority as well as the Department of Agrarian Development and Department of Irrigation if the mine is an irrigational canal or paddy field.
Kudahetty pointed out that due to all these institutions having to come and inspect the land before giving clearance, the process of getting a license usually takes around two to six months.