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IPS Policy Insights: COVID-19, the global economy and Sri Lanka’s external sector outlook



Global economic developments have impacted Sri Lanka’s external sector performance, and the economy overall. While Sri Lanka managed the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak imposing lockdown measures for two months (March to May 2020), it has since been hit by a second outbreak since October 2020 and a third wave in April 2021. The latter is leading to a substantial increase in active cases of COVID-19, along with higher numbers of deaths, disrupting the gradual economic recovery witnessed from the second quarter of 2020. Merchandise exports, tourism earnings, and foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows are all bearing the brunt of the resultant fallout, except for remittance inflows into the country.

Merchandise Trade

Along with the considerable disruptions to world trade, Sri Lanka’s merchandise trade flows also proved to be fairly volatile, with the overall result being weakened exports and imports during the pandemic. Even prior to the pandemic, Sri Lanka’s long-term export growth rate was on a declining trend, albeit with some improvements in the immediate pre-COVID-19 years. In 2020, the pandemic amplified this long-term decline. Merchandise exports contracted by -15.6% in 2020 compared to the previous year, reflecting both demand and supply shocks.

Overall, as Sri Lanka’s export sector strategies and policies are not firmly integrated into regional and global value chains (GVCs), the impact of supply chain disruptions to the country’s export sector has not been very prominent. However, the country has been facing several adverse issues related to declining demand in its major export markets. Sri Lankan exports traditionally target product markets in a few destinations such as the US, UK and some EU countries. Its export basket too remains rather limited, with overwhelming dependence still on T&G and a few agricultural products. The need to revive export performance with sound strategies will take on even more urgency in the wake of the pandemic to build greater resilience.

As countries adjust to the economic fallout of the pandemic, existing global supply chains will change. Sri Lanka too must be prepared to change direction in favour of strengthening regional linkages. The Asian region is expected to recover swiftly, led by China’s resurgent economy. Whilst India is struggling to bring its latest COVID-19 spread under control, the Indian economy too can be expected to record a strong bounce back eventually. Against these developments, Sri Lanka must exploit potential integration opportunities with the Asian region, to better connect to trade, technology and FDI flows.

Compared to exports, Sri Lanka’s import expenditures fell even more sharply in 2020, contracting by as much as -19.5%. A part of the decline was no doubt a reflection of weakened private investment, declining oil prices and subdued consumer demand. However, a large quantum of the drop in import expenditures is due to restrictions imposed on ‘non-essential’ merchandise imports such as motor vehicles, as well as restrictions on import substitute sectors such as agriculture and processed agricultural food products.

Sri Lanka’s fuel import bill accounts for the country’s largest import category. The expenditure on fuel contracted by -34.7% in 2020 compared to 2019.1 Weakened oil prices in the global market and the sharp decline in domestic demand supported this contraction. While the oil price war between Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia, and declining global oil demand created this decline in prices, a continuation of these advantages cannot be expected as global demand picks up and oil producing countries agree to curb oil supplies.

Tourism and Remittances

In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks in April 2019, Sri Lanka’s post-war tourism sector recovery came to an abrupt halt. In response, several strategies were implemented, including financial assistance to the sector as well as promotional campaigns to secure visitors. The mobility and physical containment measures imposed with the onset of COVID-19 dealt a further blow to the Sri Lankan tourism industry. With the suspension of tourist arrivals from all countries with effect from mid-March 2020, tourist arrivals came to a complete halt more or less for nine months (April to December 2020). International arrivals to the Sri Lankan border saw a sharp decline of -73.5% in 2020.

By contrast, Sri Lanka’s worker remittance inflows have performed much better than what had been forecast. Remittances had been experiencing a consistent decline over the past few years, reflecting external and internal developments related to foreign employment. In 2020, after an initial brief drop, remittances grew by 5.5% to USD 7.1 billion. The increase is perhaps explained by Sri Lankan migrants who may be remitting larger amounts as coping mechanisms for their households, as well as those remitting funds in preparation for returning to Sri Lanka owing to loss of employment in host economies. Additionally, the pandemic conditions, including limited mobility and greater uncertainty may have encouraged the diversion of remittances from informal to formal channels.

Capital Flows: FDI and Capital Market Trends

Even though Sri Lanka is argued to have a strategic geographical advantage straddling major shipping routes in the Indian Ocean, the country has not yet been able to convert this to substantive progress in attracting FDI inflows. FDI inflows saw some improvement in the post-war period and reached a peak in 2018 but has been on a declining trend thereafter. The pandemic has amplified this shrinkage. Retaining investor confidence through sound policy decisions, ensuring domestic security measures, and providing a transparent and accountable regulatory environment are vital to attract more FDI to the country.

The government is attempting to facilitate foreign investments into favourable locations in the country such as the Hambantota industrial zone, the Colombo Port City, as well as easing regulatory constraints to address time taken to set up a business in Sri Lanka, etc. The priority in these efforts appears to hinge on the Colombo Port City which will be granted special tax dispensations and other inducements to kick-start FDI inflows into mixed development projects and other infrastructure dominant sectors. The urgency to attract more FDI is partly related to the governments stated policy intention to move away from debt creating capital inflows to non-debt creating sources such as FDI. In the context in which Sri Lanka is struggling to access international capital markets in a COVID-19 environment, an enhanced inflow of FDI will provide relief on the external front.

Looking Ahead

For a country with a small domestic consumer base, Sri Lanka must remain competitive in international markets as a source of goods and services. Calibrating trade policies to integrate into re-fashioned GVCs, especially in a regional context, should remain an important part of the country’s medium-term recovery efforts towards a stable external sector environment that will support the country’s long-term growth and development aspirations.

* This Policy Insight is based on the comprehensive chapter on “COVID-19, Global Economic Developments and Impact on Sri Lanka” in the ‘Sri Lanka: State of the Economy 2020’ report – the annual flagship publication of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS). The complete report can be purchased from the Publications Unit of IPS located at 100/20, Independence Avenue, Colombo 07 and leading bookshops island wide. For more information, contact 011-2143107 / 077-3737717 or email:

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DIMO CERTIFIED guarantees peace of mind for vehicle owners seeking a luxury upgrade



DIMO, one of the leading conglomerates in Sri Lanka, is providing customers who are planning to buy pre-owned luxury vehicles, with speedy, hassle-free, trusted service, through its pre-owned vehicle sales arm ‘DIMO CERTIFIED’.

With the re-launch of DIMO CERTIFIED in 2019, the company has expanded its range of pre-owned vehicles beyond Mercedes-Benz & Jeep models by also offering hand-picked and well-maintained Luxury European vehicle brands registered within the past 10 years, under one roof.

With its 80 year history, DIMO offers unparalleled trust and reliability of expertise in the automotive industry where all vehicles come with a minimum of One Year warranty against unlimited mileage. All vehicles handpicked by DIMO CERTIFIED are guaranteed to have genuine mileage with precise servicing and maintenance since the day of import to the country. Vehicles that are bought from DIMO CERTIFIED are assured of a high resale value due to the comprehensive checks done at the time of purchase for resale and thereafter being refurbished to a standard ‘as Good as New’. In the event the new buyer is selling the vehicle at some point in the future, DIMO CERTIFIED also offers a guaranteed buy back facility.

Customers can avail themselves to attractive Personal Contract Plans with lowest interest rates from some of Sri Lanka’s leading financial institutions where they can drive away in their new Luxury European vehicle by making only a 30% down payment. In the event the buyer decides to upgrade to another vehicle prior to the end of the leasing period, DIMO will also step in to settle the balance payment immediately and extend the opportunity to trade-in for another vehicle of their choice.

The highly-reliable DIMO 24-hour Roadside Assistance provides customers ‘peace of mind’ wherever they travel in their vehicle as expert help during a rare breakdown is only a phone call away.

General Manager – DIMO CERTIFIED Pre-Owned Vehicles of DIMO, Tharanga Gunawardena stated, “We have been able to successfully elevate the pre-owned business to a whole new level through our DIMO CERTIFIED service. We have enhanced our services by adding several attractive features to set the benchmark for the automobile industry. Those who want to realize their aspiration of owning a Mercedes-Benz, Jeep or any other Luxury European vehicle need not look elsewhere.”

All the vehicles available at DIMO CERTIFIED along with special offers are displayed on the website and provides a hassle-free way for prospective buyers to access all key details. Customers are assured of the best prices when purchasing their vehicle while special trade-in options are also available for regular customers. With highly-experienced technical professionals providing the best after-sales service, DIMO CERTIFIED customers can enjoy a hassle-free experience with their Luxury European vehicle. A dedicated WhatsApp number 0771449797 has been made available for customers to contact a Sales Consultant directly to enquire about any product or offer listed on the website.

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Women in Management, IFC and Government of Australia recognise inspiring women from Sri Lanka and Maldives



The ‘Top50’ Professional and Career Women Awards 2021 – hosted by Women in Management (WIM), in collaboration with Women in Work, a partnership between IFC and the government of Australia – recently honoured inspiring professional and career women in Sri Lanka and Maldives making a mark in their respective fields.

The 11th edition of the awards ceremony celebrated women representing a wide array of professions from industries including hospitality, banking and finance, logistics and supply chains, entrepreneurship, and media and law, among others, for excellence in either their chosen careers or for inspiring women in their community. The awards also lauded Sri Lankan corporates that have supported the growth and empowerment of women in the workplace.

Top awards were conferred to Dr. Maheshi Ramasamy (Inspirational Professional Woman of the Year), Prof. Nadira Karunaweera (Inspirational Woman of the Year), Aruni Goonetilleke (Trail Blazer), Randhula De Silva (Game Changer of the Year) and Dr. Vajira Chithrasena (Judges Award). The full list of awardees is listed below.

“The 2021 awards are a celebration of resilience, optimism, hard work and growth. As we step into a third year of a pandemic, this year’s winners remind us of the possibilities and opportunities that can exist in adversity,” said Dr. Sulochana Segera, Founder/Chairperson of Women in Management (WIM). “They also remind us of the extraordinary potential women in Sri Lanka and the Maldives are capable of, especially in challenging the status-quo for greater good. Women are often hesitant to take their spot in the limelight, but over the past decade, the Top50 Awards have created a platform helping them showcase their talents and achievements, and importantly to inspire others.”

With over 470 past award winners, the ‘Top50’ Professional and Career Women Awards aim to showcase the significant role women play as leaders, employees, entrepreneurs, and stakeholders in contributing to sustainable and inclusive economic growth in the country.

Marking IFC’s seventh consecutive year in co-hosting the event, Victor Antonypillai, Acting Country Manager for IFC Sri Lanka and Maldives said, that “To ensure a resilient recovery, the path should be gender inclusive – women should be at the heart of the path to recovery. We need to ‘build forward fairer’ for economies and societies to build back better.” Supported through the IFC-DFAT Women in Work program, this year’s Top50 Awards aims to showcase the resilient leadership Sri Lankan women have shown, amid a pandemic.

Also, speaking at the event, David Holly, Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and Maldives remarked that, “Over the years, the ‘Top50’ Awards have shown the power of women in business inspiring many others in leadership and in society more generally. The 2022 Awards are a tribute to the resilience of Sri Lankan women, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ‘Top 50’ Professional and Career Women Awards 2021 were powered by Dialog, along with Gold Sponsors Salota International and Singer. Silver sponsors for the awards included Lanka IOC, Unilever, Vision Care and Aitken Spence. Maliban and Sampath Bank were also sponsors of the event, and the gifting Partner for the award ceremony was New Vivya.

Speaking of the award winners, Nadija Tambiah, Head of Legal, Secretarial and Corporate Social Responsibility at John Keells Holdings and Chair of 2021 Judging Panel, said that the “quality of the women who were nominated or who applied this year was impressive. We were forced not only to look at the accomplishments of these women in their chosen vocations but also what impact they have had in the industry and what they have done for women in their organisations.”

This year’s Judging Panel—chaired by Nadija Tambiah—included Jayanthi Dharmasena, Managing Director of Hayleys Agriculture Holdings Ltd; Kishu Gomes, Group MD/CEO of Dreamron Group of Companies; Nisthar Cassim, Founding Editor and CEO of Daily FT; Rohantha Athukorala, CEO of Clootrack Sri Lanka/Maldives & Pakistan; Sandra De Zoysa, Group Chief Customer Officer at Dialog Axiata PLC; Sandya Salgado, Strategic Marketing Professional; Santosh Menon, CEO of KL.LK; Amanda Jewell, Acting Australian High Commissioner for Sri Lanka; and Sarah Twigg, Program Manager for Women in Work at IFC.

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Chrissworld engages CDS for registrar services



Central Depositary Systems (Pvt) Ltd (CDS), a fully owned subsidiary of the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE), has strengthened its client base for the provision of registrar services with the addition of Chrissworld PLC. The CDS will provide the listed company with a variety of services such as share ledger maintenance, virtual AGM’s and all types of corporate actions. The CDS plays a role in driving innovation and offering cost effective solutions with value additions.

Speaking at the development, the CEO of the CSE, Mr. Rajeeva Bandaranaike, said, “We welcome Chrissworld PLC to the CDS portfolio. The CDS is uniquely positioned to offer value added Registrar services to listed entities in Sri Lanka, and the CDS is very confident that Chrissworld PLC will fully benefit from the services provided .”

Chairman of Chrissworld PLC, Mr. Christopher Perera stated, “We are very pleased to sign this agreement with the CDS as the registrar. The process of working with the CDS has been a rewarding experience for Chrissworld PLC, and going forward, we are confident that there will be excellent co-operation between the two companies and that the CDS will efficiently manage all our affairs. “

Chrissworld PLC was founded in 2013 and provides third-party logistics services specializing in warehousing, inventory management, distribution, and transportation. The company was listed on the Colombo Stock Exchange on May 18th, 2021, the first ever company to be listed on the Empower Board.

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