Sri Lanka's apparel sector could pass the US$5bn export revenue mark this year, the country's Minister for Industry and Commerce has said, boosted by the GSP-plus status it enjoys with the European Union (EU).

Minister Rishad Bathiudeen said 2018 will be a breakthrough year in Sri Lanka's history of exports compared to the US$4.8bn it earned in 2017. In the first quarter of 2018, total apparel exports have grown 4% to $1.26bn.

The Minister was speaking at the recent launch of the eighth AISEX and FASE apparel industry sourcing expo in Colombo. According to Sri Lanka's Daily News, Bathiudeen pointed out that though revenues are close to $5bn, Sri Lanka invests nearly $4bn importing apparel and sourcing raw materials.

He told delegates that steps should be taken to minimise this and source materials locally, while also looking to new technologies. "Looking at manufacturing raw material too is a good option," he said.

The Minister also cautioned that while Europe is a key market for Sri Lanka, that exporters should look to new markets given the continent is undergoing changes surrounding Brexit.

His thoughts are backed up by a recent survey by the Oxford Business Group (OBG), which found Sri Lanka's textile and apparel export industry is likely to experience its highest rate of growth in 2018, but will need to invest in technological advancements if it is to retain the momentum.

Apparel and textiles are the backbone of Sri Lanka's tradable sector, representing 47% of total exports in 2016. And while industries such as tourism, food and electronics are among those identified by the government as priority areas for diversifying the country's export base, business leaders expect traditional industries to underpin growth for the foreseeable future.