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European Union overreacting to Sri Lanka import controls: CB Governor

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ECONOMYNEXT

– 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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SJB: Excise, FM officials all out to pocket Rs 1 bn

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By Saman Indrajith

Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana yesterday told Parliament that the Finance Ministry and Excise Department officials had misled Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal in order to obtain billion rupees, fraudulently.

The officials had got a contract for printing stickers or barcodes to be displayed on bottles of liquor awarded to an Indian company.

“The project would result in one-billion-rupee loss to the government coffers annually,” the MP said, adding that the money being taken from the public purse would end up in the pockets of corrupt officials.

Pathirana said that the Excise Department had commenced a project to paste stickers on bottles of liquor to differentiate them from the fake and counterfeit bottles in the market.

“As per this project’s requirements, 32 million stickers would be needed per month. The stickers are to be purchased from Madras Security Printers company of India. This method was proposed in 2016 but it failed and the officials thereafter decided to introduce a barcode system.

“The cost of a sticker at 25 cents and the new barcode system will cost of two rupees a piece. This is a dubious deal. It seems that the Finance Ministry officials and the Excise Department heads have ganged up to give the contract to the Indian company and get commissions. There are many unanswered questions. First, the contract of printing the barcode too has been given to the MSP company, which could not secure the first contract. I want to know whether the proper procurement process has been followed. The second question is whether the barcodes would be up to the standards listed in the tender. Third question is who had selected the MSP company which is black-listed in India after being found guilty of frauds with Indian liquor companies in providing stickers to them. MSP has been blacklisted in many other countries. The company has been banned in Sudan and Liberia for supplying the stickers to private companies. The last question is whether this fraud is being committed with the knowledge of ministers of this government.”

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Reserves fall to lowest since 2009, rupee strengthening to be short-lived: report

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by Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka’s Foreign reserves had dropped to USD 4.1bn in March 2021, the lowest since August 2009, on the back of over US$ 4bn outstanding debt payment during April-December 2021 period, a report issued by First Capital Research yesterday said.

According to the report, rupee appreciation is likely to be short-lived considering Sri Lanka’s depleting foreign reserve position, high foreign currency debt repayment requirement and limited funding sources available in the market are expected to further increase depreciation pressure on the currency during 2Q and 3Q.

“We maintain our exchange rate target for 1H2021 at Rs. 196-202 with 2021 year-end target at Rs. 205-215 as mentioned in our ‘Investment Strategy 2021 – January 2021,” the report recalls.

“Sri Lankan rupee appreciated 5% against the US dollar over the last 2 market days reversing the continuous accelerated depreciation witnessed in January-April 2021. On 12th April, Sri Lankan rupee recorded a historical low of Rs. 201:1 US$. Ministry of Finance (MoF) reported on the same day that the government of Sri Lanka entered into a loan agreement with the China Development Bank (CDB) for US$ 500mn and MoF expected the funds to be disbursed during the same week. Following the announcement, the market registered a steep appreciation with mid-rate recording at Rs. 190.9 on April 19,” it says.

The total foreign debt repayment (capital and interest) for 2021 is US$ 6 bn, according to the report.

Meanwhile FC Research believes that the temporary appreciation in USD-LKR, may adversely impact earnings of export companies such as Hayleys, Haycarb, Dipped Products, MGT Knitting Mills, Teejay Lanka, Expolanka Holdings etc. in the short term.

“However, considering the potential future currency pressure, we expect an overall depreciation of approximately 12% for the rupee providing a significant gain for companies with foreign currency revenue”, FC research predicts.

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Govt. asks Opposition not to propagate lies

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By Saman Indrajith

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando yesterday accused the Opposition MPs of abusing parliamentary privileges to mislead the public by propagating lies about the Easter Sunday terror attacks. 

Addressing Parliament, Minister Fernando said: “The Opposition MPs level wild allegations in the House knowing that they have the cover of parliamentary privilege. If they have anything substantial or any knowledge of the perpetrators of the Easter attacks still not in custody they can go to the CID and lodge complaints so that such complaints could be investigated.”  

Fernando said so after SJB Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara had told the House that he possessed evidence of those who carried out the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Nanayakkara also said that the facts that he had were not in the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage.

“You are making various statements regarding the Easter Sunday terror attacks in the Chamber without any proof because you know that you have Parliamentary privilege. You even quoted some statements which are not included in the PCoI report. How did you obtain such information? Why didn’t you complain about this to the CID in the first place? Your action is aimed at misleading the public,” the Minister said. 

Minister Fernando said that the Opposition should stop insulting Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith by misinterpreting the latter’s statements. 

“When you are in the Government you never said that this is a Buddhist country. Now you are insulting the Cardinal too. You should not do that,” the Minister said. 

“The former Government should be responsible for the terror attack. Now we are trying to punish those who are responsible for it. We will take action against everyone who is responsible. You should support us, not try to obstruct the on-going investigations,” Minister Fernando said.

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