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European Union overreacting to Sri Lanka import controls: CB Governor

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– The European Union, which protested Sri Lanka’s import controls, is over reacting, the island’s Central Bank Governor W D Lakshman said while officials said the data showed affected imports are minimal.

“The statement that was published here from the EU is probably an overreaction presented too early,” Governor Lakshman told reporters.

“We are at a time we are trying to resolve our balance of payments problems. Even under WTO rules, I think a country is allowed to do certain things which are needed to meet the balance of payments problems.”

Analysts have blamed the phenomenon on a strong prevalence of Mercantilism and lack of knowledge of classical economic theory.

Classical economists have blamed the ideology on Keynes naming his book a ‘general’ theory though it could only be practised without the balance of payments troubles when credit was weak or negative (Why Singapore chose a currency board over a central bank) and the teachings of arch-Keynesians like Alvin Hansen (IS-LM) which also has to assume no external trade (Mundell–Fleming model).

In 1971 the US also imposed trade controls called a ‘Nixon-shock’ as the dollar peg with gold collapsed from printing money to target an output gap. Sri Lanka then closed the entire economy.

Trade or current account deficits are driven by foreign-financed savings-investment gaps, while currency falls are triggered by central bank liquidity driven credit, classical economists say. Commodity prices are also expected to spike amid US dollar weakening as demand recovers.

In 2018, Sri Lanka injected liquidity to control rates first by terminating term repo deals, a so-called ‘buffer strategy’ and then through Treasury bill acquisitions in April, critics have said.

The ‘buffer strategy’ refusing to roll over maturing bonds as paper (which happens without an impact on reserve money or the exchange rate) and repaying them with a bank overdraft which was re-finance with window money. As the rupee fell gold imports which were being re-exported through a grey market.

Shortly after gold imports were banned in 2018, the rupee collapsed as more money was injected including through dollar-rupee swap of the types used by foreign speculators to bring down East Asian pegs.

In September more import controls were slammed, making nonsense of the free trade agenda of the then administration and making them a laughing stock.

Governor Lakshman said the emerging problem with the EU could be resolved with discussions.

“I think our external relations authorities are taking up this matter for discussion between Sri Lanka authorities and relevant EU authorities,” he said.

“I think discussions can solve this problem, which I am sure is a short term problem as far as we are concerned until we get out o the present difficulties.”

Officials said the impact on Europe, which had a large trade deficit with Sri Lanka and was a key destination of exports, was minimal.

“We studied the impact of import restrictions on imports from those countries it seems that the impact is quite minimal,” Director of Economic Research Chandranath Amarasekera said.

“As you know the most of the import restrictions are on non-essential imports and agricultural goods that are coming from because the government wants to promote domestic production of agricultural goods.”

“All of us need to understand why the import restrictions have been put in place,” Amarasekera said.

“It is primarily because of the difficult situation that we are in. We have saved about 3 billion dollars because of the reduction of import this year in the first 10 months.”

Analysts, however, have warned that with excess liquidity injected by domestic asset acquisitions, that imports can pick up (or domestic prices to rise) as credit is fungible.

Assistant Governor N Nanayakkara said some of the restrictions have been relaxed; imports for re-exports have also been relaxed. He said the government has said that items such as cars will be kept for a year.



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LIOC seeks to expand operations

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by Ifham Nizam

Power and Energey Minister Kanchana Wijesekera yesterday revealed that Lanka Indian Oil Company (LIOC) had asked for permission to set up 50 new filling stations in the country and take over a certain number of petrol sheds currenlty under the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). The government had asked the LIOC to increases the supply of fuel, in case Sri Lanka agreed to the Indian proposal,Wijesekera added.

Sri Lanka was facing daunting challenges as regards fuel distribution and it might not be able to get rid of fuel queues anytime soon, Minister Wijesekera said.Speaking to journalists yesterday, in Colombo, Wijesekera said that plans were underway to introduce a token system for fuel dispensation.He said the new scheme could come into effect from today (27) and the Police, and the armed forces will help implement it.

He also said that four separate groups from the Ministry were working on petrol, diesel, crude / furnace oil, and jet fuel imports. “We asked Lanka IOC to increase fuel supply and CEYPETCO to purchase diesel from them. But they asked for a price revision before that according to the pricing formula. That’s why we revised the price in a situation where there was no fuel in the country.”

The moves came as the government increased fuel prices with effect from the wee hours of Sunday wee hours. Petrol (Octane 92) now sells at Rs 470 per litre and Octane 95 at Rs. 550 per litre. Auto Diesel sells at Rs 460 per litre and Super Diesel at Rs 520 per litre.The Minister said they were working on 130-plus proposals for fuel delivery to Sri Lanka.

“USD 500 million is something that Sri Lanka cannot afford at this juncture. Therefore, consumption will have to be slashed, and fuel for public transport prioritized. Two ministers will fly to Russia today for discussions on fuel and related matters,” he said.The Minister said that bunker suppliers had been granted permission to deliver fuel for industries that deal in US currency.

He also said that overseas fuel companies based in countries that produce fuel, would be invited to set up business in Sri Lanka, as the CPC alone could not import fuel.

He said the CPC would become a more service-provider-based institution to facilitate fuel imports, and it had 9000 MT of diesel and the IOC 10,000 MT while the CPC had about 6000 MT of Petrol and the IOC about 8000 MT, of petrol.He said the IOC was issuing about 300 MT a day and their next shipment was due only after 10 July.

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Economic crisis: Govt. MPs slam Cabinet, Finance Ministry

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‘How come SLPA paid to Treasury just a faction of massive revenue earned in six years?’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

T wo SLPP MPs, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa and Madura Vithanage have, at different forums, lashed out at the government for the rapidly deteriorating status of the public sector finance. Godahewa has warned that economic recovery will not be possible unless the government restructured nearly 400 loss making public sector enterprises or at least take tangible measures to cut down on recurring losses.The former Media Minister, who represents the Gampaha District, said so addressing a group of Gampaha-based professionals and entrepreneurs recently.

Alleging that the failure, on the part of the government to establish an all-party government, contributed to the further deterioration of the situation, Dr. Godahewa emphasized the urgent need to curb, what he called, unbridled corruption as part of the efforts to revive the economy.The Gampaha District MP asked whether the current dispensation has addressed the issues at hand with a sense of responsibility.The MP questioned the composition of the Cabinet-of-Ministers, especially the appointment of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Premier, in spite of his party having just one seat in Parliament, against the backdrop of even the government parliamentary group not being properly represented.

Dr. Godahewa warned that SriLankan Airlines, the Ceylon Electricity Board, and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) would deny the country an opportunity to recover as they remained a massive burden on taxpayers. The One-time top level private sector executive said that the Cabinet-of-Ministers lacked the strength to take crucial decisions. But, the situation would have been different if the Cabinet-of-Ministers included representatives of the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and other political parties. Dr. Godahewa declared that the government couldn’t take decisions on sensitive matters as long as it didn’t command political power.

Meanwhile, Colombo District MP Vithanage has questioned the responsibility, on the part of the Finance Ministry, in the overall deterioration of public sector finance with the focus on the handling of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) at a recent meeting of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE). The lawmaker alleged that the Finance Ministry had conveniently failed to make required intervention on behalf of the government, thereby deprived the opportunity to utilize SLPA profits.

Prof. Charitha Herath chaired the meeting. Auditor General W.P.C. Wickramaratne attended the meeting whereas Ports and Shipping Secretary K.D.S. Ruwanchandra led the SLPA team.Both MP Vithanage and Prof. Herath asserted that the Finance Ministry should have intervened on behalf of the people. The COPE examined how the SLPA continuously refrained from paying the Treasury at least the minimum amounts in spite of receiving massive profits over the years.  The Director General Public Enterprises, who has received that position recently, struggled to explain their failure to take up the non-transfer of SLPA profits to the Treasury. The COPE was told of Rs 69,686 mn revenue earned from 2016 to 2021, only 600 mn had been transferred to the Treasury.

Lawmaker Vithanage yesterday told The Island that the recent examinations of various enterprises and the Central Bank, by the COPE, as well as other watchdog committees, disclosed how the Finance Ministry, Central Bank and the Monetary Board contributed to the developing crisis. MP Vithanage pointed out even after the Covid-19 eruption devastated the economy, the SLPA had been able to withhold funds required by the Treasury for want of Finance Ministry intervention.Responding to queries, MP Vithanage said that the Parliament should act without further delay to ensure the Finance Ministry and the Monetary Board acted responsibly.

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Ceylon Chamber distributes dry rations

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The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce’s ‘Diwiyata Diriyak’ social initiative provided emergency relief, in the form of 10,000 essential dry ration packs, to vulnerable families in the Kegalle and Colombo districts.

A press release from the Chamber said: Mobilising the Chamber’s Membership to assist low-income families that are struggling to survive the current crisis, the initial distribution, which took place at the Kegalle District Secretariat, was the first phase of Diwiyata Diriyak, which aims to provide 5,000 relief packs.

Containing essential items such as rice, lentils, sugar, wheat flour, canned fish, etc., costing Rs. 5,000 each, vulnerable families, identified by the respective District Secretaries in the Warakapola, Galigamuwa, Mawanella and Rambukkana DS divisions, were among the initial beneficiaries.

CEO and Secretary General of the Ceylon Chamber Manjula de Silva said that the Chamber was committed to supporting the public during this immensely challenging time, and would always strive to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected.

Home Garden Starter Packs, sponsored by the CIC Group, were also distributed among the families, in order to assist and encourage home garden cultivation as a viable option to address the rapidly rising costs and predicted shortage of food items, the release said.

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