Singapore, Sri Lanka mark 50 years of bilateral ties with fusion beverage

(From left) Asmara co-founders Tho Pin Da and Ramesh Krish Kumar, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Singapore Sashikala Premawardhane, and GB Community Development steward Sally Chew.
(From left) Asmara co-founders Tho Pin Da and Ramesh Krish Kumar, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Singapore Sashikala Premawardhane, and GB Community Development steward Sally Chew.PHOTO: DINESH NALINDA STUDIOS
MP Vikram Nair (left) and Mr Ramesh Krish Kumar with the fusion beverage Simha Infusion.
MP Vikram Nair (left) and Mr Ramesh Krish Kumar with the fusion beverage Simha Infusion.PHOTO: DINESH NALINDA STUDIOS

SINGAPORE - Mrs Nilushika Silva Jayaweera first came to Singapore in 2001 to work as a domestic helper.

At the time, she could not imagine creating products and having them sold here.

Yet the intrepid Sri Lankan went on to found start-up Nilu Tea, and a herbal beverage the company co-created was launched to commemorate 50 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Sri Lanka on Tuesday (Dec 8).

Mrs Jayaweera, 40, told The Straits Times: "Singapore is like my second home and it has given me opportunities to change my life. To see a product I co-created being sold in Singapore during a time when the relationship between Sri Lanka and Singapore is stronger than ever is like a miracle."

The herbal beverage - named Simha Infusion - was among the first cross-border tie-ups between Sri Lanka and Singapore to be launched in commemoration of a half-century of bilateral relations between the two countries.

Created over 13 months, the beverage was a collaboration between Nilu Tea and local food science and tech start-up Asmara. It blends herbs such as ranawara and bael vilva flowers sourced from Sri Lanka with ingredients commonly used in Singapore such as lemongrass, liquorice and tulsi basil.

Speaking at the launch event, which took place at the Smart Urban Co-Innovation Lab at Science Park 2 and was live-streamed, Mr Vikram Nair, the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, said that the two countries are longstanding friends whose economic cooperation culminated in the signing of the Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement in 2018.

Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Singapore Sashikala Premawardhane noted that Singapore was one of Sri Lanka's biggest trading partners and its fifth-largest investor last year.

According to Sri Lanka Customs, total bilateral trade in 2019 was valued at US$883 million (S$1.17 billion), out of which Sri Lanka's exports accounted for US$115 million.

Mr Nair added: "We are living in a world in flux, made more challenging by the Covid-19 pandemic. This has made the pace of change more complex and unpredictable.

"However, it has also provided us with the opportunity to pull our strengths together and deepen our collaboration to face common adversity."

He also noted that Sri Lanka was an attractive market for Singapore's small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), providing them with opportunities to partner with Sri Lankan SMEs in food and beverage, hospitality and agriculture.

"SMEs are a key plank of economic growth and employment for both Singapore and Sri Lanka. These SMEs have the potential to be nurtured and developed so that they are integral components of global supply chains and international commerce," said Mr Nair.


Mrs Nilushika Silva Jayaweera's start-up Nilu Tea co-created a herbal beverage launched to commemorate 50 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Sri Lanka. PHOTO: MARY GOMEZ CANBA


Nilu Tea was founded by Mrs Nilushika Silva Jayaweera, a former domestic helper who worked in Singapore. PHOTO: NILU TEA/FACEBOOK

A virtual signing of a memorandum of understanding and exchange of two letters of intent took place during the launch event between GB Community Development (GBCDL) and three Sri Lankan partners, including entrepreneur consortium Leadership in Action.

GBCDL is one of 19 consortium partners of the Global Technology Innovation Village established by the Asian Development Bank and Singapore Polytechnic, with a strong focus to support transboundary start-ups.

The MOU between GBCDL and Leadership in Action will, among other things, help build tie-ups like that between Asmara and Nilu Tea.

The letters of intent were signed with the Entrepreneurship Department of the University of Sri Jayewardenapura, and the University Business Linkage Cell of the University of Moratuwa, to further foster innovation and start-ups between both countries.

Ms Premawardhane added: "Many international start-ups consider Singapore to be the entry point to the Asean bloc, with a market of over 600 million people. Fintech is one sector that has attracted much attention of Sri Lankan innovators and start-ups.

"I hope for more collaborations with Singapore for Sri Lankan start-ups in this sector. The signing of the letters of intents between GBCDL and renowned Sri Lankan institutions will no doubt facilitate this process."


Correction note: This article has been edited for accuracy.