The stimulus to constitute an Import Section, under the auspices of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, originated in the early years of the 20th century. Considering the emerging importance of the import trade, on June 7, 1901, a few Chamber members engaged in the import trade took the initiative of forming the first-ever ‘Ceylon Importers’ Association’. The prime objective of this Association was to provide leadership in matters pertaining to the import trade..

With the import trade rapidly expanding during this period, this Association was initially very active. However, following nine years of ground-breaking work, inertia unaccountably set in and activities were suspended till 1928. The Association was resuscitated and re-established on December 3, 1928.

Once again, the Ceylon Import Association became a hive of activity and, at its 4th Annual General Meeting, a resolution was adopted empowering the Committee “to take such steps as may be necessary to conform to any proposals from the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce that this Association be converted into a Section of the Chamber”.

At an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Ceylon Import Association convened at 11.00 a.m. on Friday, November 22, 1935, at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, the rules of the Import Section of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce were adopted, proposed by the Founder Chairman, Mr. J.A. Tarbat, and seconded by Mr. R.P.L. Ross of Mackwoods Ltd.

Thus, the Import Section of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce was created, with the main objective of “promoting, co-ordinating and supporting the interests of the Import Trade”. Additionally, it was also authorized to “make rules, collect information and take such other action from time to time as may be necessary to protect its members in any matters appertaining to this trade generally”.

The founder Chairman and Committee comprised:


Mr. J A Tarbat

  • Bosanquet & Skrine Limited
  • Brown & Company Limited
  • É B Creasy & Company Limited
  • Mackwoods Limited
  • Shaw Wallace & Company
  • Volkart Brothers

Mr. C F Whitaker (Secretary of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce – Ex officio)

The pioneers, who set the stage for the Import Section on November 22, 1935, were:

Mr. J A Tarbat (in the Chairman)

Name of FirmRepresented by
Bosanquet & Skrine Ltd. Mr. F Cunningham
Brown & Co. Ltd. Mr. W Armour-Mudie
Cave & Co. H W Mr. É A Bartleet
Darley Butler & Co. Ltd. Mr. F A W Mitchell
Delmege Forsyth & Co. Ltd. Mr. N O C Marsh
Dodwell & Co. Ltd. Mr. A C J Stevens
Finlay & Co. Ltd. James Mr. A M Robertson
Hayley & Kenny Mr. P H Wilkinson
Hunter & Co. Mr. D Gordon
Lee Hedges & Co. Ltd. Mr. C F H Edwards
Mackwoods Ltd. Mr. R P L Ross
Nestle & Anglo Swiss Condensed Milk Co. Mr. K H Batger
Volkart Brothers Mr. A M Thalmann

Mr. C F Whitaker, Secretary

The Section plays a critical role in the continuous advancement of the import sector of the country. It initiates action to identify future trends, focuses on key issues and assists in the development of strategic plans to meet new challenges and opportunities. It also maintains an excellent rapport with the state sector and provides a platform for its members to project issues affecting their trade. The Import Section functions as a facilitator and a link between the members and the government sector.

In this changing scenario, two factors remained unaltered. Firstly, the Import Section, which was established as the first direct arm of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, even after 80 years of existence, still remains the only direct trade association of the Chamber. This is the only association, which has the privilege of being known as a “Section of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce”. Though there are over 40 affiliated associations and bilateral business councils functioning under the aegis of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, this is the only association restricting membership exclusively to the members of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. The Import Section is indeed honoured to operate under the auspices of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, an institution with an enduring history of over 175 years. The Import Section membership being open only to the members of the Chamber clearly indicates that our membership represents the cream of the business community in Sri Lanka.

The second factor is that the auditor of the Import Section. KPMG Ford, Rhodes, Thornton & Company, the pioneer auditors, who were then known as Ford, Rhodes, Thornton & Company, has continued to play that important role, without a break, for the past 80 years.

Since its inauguration, the scope and activities of the Import Section has expanded with the introduction of various economic reforms by successive Governments. It has exerted a strong influence on the import trade and economy of the country by being sensitive to these changes and responding pro-actively to them. It has also brought into focus the importance of maintaining a close rapport with state institutions.

The Section, which commenced with a membership of 21, now represents 125 companies engaged in the import of a range of products. The rapid changes in the trading policies experienced over the years prompted the Committee to revisit the objectives and develop a Vision and Mission Statement. Accordingly, in 2002 during the Chairmanship of Mr. Suraj Fernando the Section formulated the Vision and Mission statements.