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Fallout From Tsunami: Sri Lanka to Ask U.S. For Breaks on Tariffs

Looking to rebuild its economy, Sri Lanka, where 30,000 people were killed by the Dec. 26 tsunami, plans to petition the U.S. for trade breaks.

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“It needs enhanced market access to the U.S., which is its major market, in order to ensure a continuous flow of export earnings to cushion the impact of the present crisis,” he said.

The waves hit on Boxing Day and most workers were off for the holiday. It took about a week for many factories to return to full strength while their workers tended to their families and traveled back. Local sources and importers said few factories had lost many employees to the waves, though there were unconfirmed reports that at least one plant on the south side of the island lost as many as 350 staffers.

Still, even if manufacturers lost few employees, most Sri Lankans lost family members.

Carole Hochman, chairman and design director of Carole Hochman Designs Inc., said of a plant from which her company buys, “We lost two people, but 50 people at the factory lost many immediate relatives, husbands, brothers…It’s been absolutely devastating.”

She said her company is focusing on offering “financial support” to get business back on track at a plant in Sri Lanka.

“It is still difficult to assess in terms of what this does to the economy of the country for the year,” said Martin Trust, president of Brandot International, a Salem, N.H.-based company with investments in Sri Lankan factories that employ 11,000 workers. “The impact of factories not being damaged is good news. The fact that so many people have been hurt or killed is obviously going to have impact on society as a whole.”

The port of Colombo reopened the day after the tsunami struck, and executives said that both air and seaport operations had returned to normal. However, many roads and railways throughout the country have been damaged, which is interfering with some shipping.

Rick Darling, president of Li & Fung USA, said his company’s operations in the region had experienced only minimal disruptions.

“From a business standpoint, Sri Lanka factories are operating pretty close to normal,” he said. “These countries are taking a stance that where they can possibly continue as normal, it’s in the best interest of the whole economic recovery process to keep running.”

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