Bangladesh – Sri Lanka Preferential Trade Agreement: Gains and policy challenges
By Asanka Wijesinghe and Chathurrdhika Yogarajah
0espite enhanced trade partnerships in South Asia, intra-regional trade is far from reaching its theoretical potential. Similar production patterns and competitive sectors can be the causes. However, bilateral discussions to further lower trade costs continue. The ongoing Bangladesh-Sri Lanka discussions on a preferential trade agreement (PTA) will benefit from knowing the potential gains from reducing bilateral trade costs. In addition, knowledge of products with higher potential for export gains will help optimise the economic benefits from a trade deal.
Bangladesh – Sri Lanka Trade:
The Current Status
In 2018, when discussions on a PTA began to firm up, Sri Lanka’s exports to Bangladesh were USD 133 million, while imports from Bangladesh were USD 37 million. Despite the low trade volume, Sri Lanka’s exports to Bangladesh have grown (Figure 1). In addition, Sri Lanka records a bilateral trade surplus with Bangladesh, which is encouraging given the country’s trade deficit concerns. However, weak growth of exports from Bangladesh to Sri Lanka can be seen from 2001 to 2016 (Figure 1).
The current trade deals between the two countries are still partially restrictive. Both countries keep a sensitive list of products that are not eligible for tariff cuts. Sri Lanka maintains a list of 925 products sanctioned by SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) while Bangladesh keeps 993 products. Sri Lanka’s sensitive list covers USD 6.2 million or 23.8% of imports from Bangladesh. The sensitive list of Bangladesh covers USD 77.6 million or 62% of imports from Sri Lanka. Thus, the elimination of sensitive lists may benefit Sri Lanka more.
Figure 1: Trade Intensity between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka
Source: Authors’ Illustration using Trademap Data.
Theoretically, bilateral alliances deepen trade by removing weaknesses in existing multilateral trade arrangements. A trade deal between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka can simplify trade regulations further. In addition, Bangladesh needs alternative preferential access as graduation from Least Developed Country (LDC) status will take away preferential access to its key markets. For Sri Lanka, increasing bilateral participation in production value chains, especially in the textiles sector, might be an economic motivation. Financial support extended by Bangladesh to manage Sri Lanka’s foreign currency pressures might be a political motivation for a trade deal.
Eliminating sensitive lists can lead to trade creation, although it may not happen due to political and economic reasons. When it comes to tariff cuts, both countries will act defensively as certain products in the sensitive lists are vital for employment and revenue generation. Thus, the success of a trade deal depends on how many products with high export potential are under its purview. In this direction, a group of products with specific characteristics can be identified as an offensive list. For example, Sri Lanka’s offensive list includes products that Bangladesh imports from anywhere in the world, produced by Sri Lanka with a capacity for expansion. Sri Lanka has a comparative advantage in exporting that good, and Bangladesh already has a tariff on the product.
Export Gains from Tariff Elimination
If tariffs on the sensitive lists are eliminated, there will be modest export gains for Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in absolute terms. Sri Lanka will gain USD 24.7 to 49.7 million of exports to Bangladesh, while Bangladesh will gain USD 2.1 to 4.5 million of exports to Sri Lanka. Potential export gains are given in a range due to assumptions on elasticity values used in the partial equilibrium model. Elimination of sensitive lists will generate a higher tariff revenue loss to Bangladesh, ranging between USD 13.5 million to USD 19.1 million. By contrast, Sri Lanka’s revenue loss will be slight at USD 1.4 million to USD 1.9 million.
Whatever the arrangement, it is crucial to include the products with high export potential in the offensive lists (See Table 1 for the major products). Out of 39 products in Bangladesh’s offensive list, 21 are intermediate goods, while 18 are consumption goods. Similarly, 75 out of 115 products in Sri Lanka’s offensive list are intermediate goods. Tariff cuts on intermediate products may induce fragmented production between two countries, which would harness country-specific comparative advantages. Major intermediate goods in the offensive lists are dyed cotton fabrics, cartons, boxes, and cases, plain woven fabrics of cotton, denim, natural rubber, and smoked sheets of natural rubber (Table 1).
The ex-ante estimates predict modest gains for Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in absolute terms, even after completely removing the sensitive list. But complete removal is politically challenging for both countries. Moreover, Bangladesh as an LDC may expect special and differential (S&D) treatment. Thus, the outcome can be a limited PTA in line with weaknesses in existing trade agreements governing South Asian trade. The impact on trade of regional trade agreements in force is negative primarily due to stringent general regulatory measures, including rules of origin (ROO), sensitive lists, and prolonged phasing-in. Given that the estimated modest economic gains of a Bangladesh-Sri Lanka PTA do not justify a trade deal that requires substantial resources for negotiations,the PTA should have fewer regulatory measures and tariff concessions for the products on the offensive lists to maximise the economic benefits of a PTA between the two countries.
Link to the full Talking Economics blog: https://www.ips.lk/talkingeconomics/2022/01/20/bangladesh-sri-lanka-preferential-trade-agreement-gains-and-policy-challenges/
Asanka Wijesinghe is a Research Economist at IPS with research interests in macroeconomic policy, international trade, labour and health economics. He holds a BSc in Agricultural Technology and Management from the University of Peradeniya, an MS in Agribusiness and Applied Economics from North Dakota State University, and an MS and PhD in Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics from The Ohio State University. (Talk with Asanka – firstname.lastname@example.org)
Chathurrdhika Yogarajah is a Research Assistant at IPS with research interests in macroeconomics and trade policy. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Agricultural Technology and Management, specialised in Applied Economics and Business Management from the University of Peradeniya with First Class Honours. She is currently reading for her Master’s in Agricultural Economics at the Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture, Peradeniya. (Talk with Chathurrdhika: email@example.com)
NSB Chairman hands over annual report to President
Dr. Harsha Cabral, Chairman of the National Savings Bank, formally presented the bank’s annual report for the year 2022 to Minister of Finance, Economic Stabilization & National Policies President Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Presidential Secretariat on Thursday (01).
The report, titled “Strengthening Our Strength,” provides an integrated overview of the bank’s performance within the economic framework and its engagements with the social and environmental sectors.
The Central Bank of Sri Lanka relaxes its Monetary Policy stance
The Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, at its meeting held on 31 May 2023, decided to reduce the Standing Deposit Facility Rate (SDFR) and the Standing Lending Facility Rate (SLFR) of the Central Bank by 250 basis points to 13.00 per cent and 14.00 per cent, respectively.
The Board arrived at this decision with a view to easing monetary conditions in line with the faster than expected slowing of inflation, gradual dissipation of inflationary pressures and further anchoring of inflation expectations. The commencing of such monetary easing is expected to provide an impetus for the economy to rebound from the historic contraction of activity witnessed in 2022, while easing pressures in the financial markets.
‘Damro-revived Agalawatte Plantations in impressive start to 2023’
* Q1 Revenue grows 49.7% to Rs 1.489 billion
* Pre-tax profit up 44.6% to Rs 417.2 million
* Major investments in replanting of rubber and tea to continue in 2023
Agalawatte Plantations PLC (APL) has reported impressive revenue and profit growth in the first quarter of 2023, consolidating on the remarkable turnaround achieved subsequent to the acquisition of a majority stake in the Company by the Damro Group.
Revenue grew by 49.7% to Rs 1.489 billion for the three months ending 31st March 2023, with revenue from tea doubling to Rs 796.2 million over the first quarter of 2022, and revenue from oil palm up 57.5% to Rs 305.1 million. Rubber contributed Rs 216.9 million to the Company’s top line in the quarter reviewed.
Stable tea prices and an increased oil palm crop enabled APL to post pre-tax profit of Rs 417.2 million for the three months, reflecting growth of 44.6%. Total assets grew by 21.2% since end 2022 to Rs 6.448 billion as at 31st March 2023, and the Company’s net assets value per share improved by 23.5% to Rs 26.09.
Nalaka Gunathilake, Managing Director / CEO of Agalawatte Plantations described the growth achieved in the first quarter of 2023 as extremely encouraging in the context of the Company’s achievement of net profit of Rs 1.76 billion for the year ended 31st December 2022, the highest profit in its history.
Once debt-ridden and at risk of liquidation, Agalawatte Plantations became part of the Damro Group in 2017 when the latter acquired the majority stake in the Company and infused Rs 3.2 billion for the payment of unsettled dues and statutory obligations. Timely investments in replanting, factory modernisation, redefining strategic focus and leadership transformed the Company into the strong corporate it is today, Gunathilake said. Good management practices together with agricultural inputs and professional human resources management policies too played pivotal role in this turnaround.
APL produces around 2 million kgs of latex annually and the company has facilities to manufacture Latex Crepe, Ribbed Smoked Sheets (RSS) and Centrifuged latex depending on the demand in the market. The Company’s tea production is around 2 million kgs per year and this volume is expected to increase with the availability of chemical fertilizer and agrochemicals in the country. APL also produces more than 11 million kgs of oil palm crop annually, generating substantial returns for the Company.
With the Company’s acquisition by Damro Group a strategic management decision was taken to prioritise replanting across all estates under APL management. An extent of over 2,600 acres of aged and uneconomical rubber land has since been replanted with high yielding clones to ensure company’s productivity and sustainability in the years ahead.
The Company disclosed that a further extent of over 1,000 acres is to be replanted in 2023 and land preparation and preliminary work in these areas has already commenced. In order to support the company’s ambitious rubber replanting programme, Agalawatte Plantations has its own network of rubber nurseries and has established 400,000 seedlings in six regional nurseries to supply healthy and vigorous plants.
Between 2017-2022, an extent of over 263 acres of tea has also been replanted and the preliminary work on another 150 acres has been commenced in 2023. Five tea nurseries with 900,000 plants will supply the requirement of high yielding vigorous tea plants for the replanting programme.
APL said it is gearing up for a new phase of growth in the tea plantations by obtaining system and quality management certifications. The company has obtained the Rain Forest Alliance (RA) certification for its upcountry tea estates while all tea manufacturing facilities have obtained the ISO 22000 Food Safety Management System certification.
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