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Significance of repatriation and conversion of export proceeds for external sector stability and overall financial system stability

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Sri Lanka’s merchandise export sector has shown a notable improvement in 2021 compared to the pandemic-affected 2020. As per the latest Customs data, export earnings have averaged US dollars 985 million during the eight months ending August 2021 compared to a monthly average of US dollars 837 million in 2020, while the average earnings have amounted to US dollars 1,064 million during June-August 2021. This is an appreciable development as the merchandise export sector (comprising diverse products) is the largest foreign exchange earner in most countries, including Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has had a trade deficit each year since 1977, and the gap between merchandise imports and exports is typically financed by other inflows to the external current account (such as tourism and other services inflows as well as workers’ remittances), and financial inflows (such as investments and borrowing).

In this background, some recent developments in the foreign exchange market have raised several concerns, particularly as some of these typical avenues of foreign exchange inflows have been affected due to pandemic-related pressures, as explained below:

a) Compared to the monthly average exports as reported by Customs (goods flow) of US dollars 985 million during the eight months ending August 2021, the monthly average repatriation of export proceeds during July/August 2021 has been US dollars 640 million as reported by banks (financial flow). Accordingly, there has been a significant gap of US dollars 345 million between these two figures. This observation therefore, raises the serious question as to whether exporters comply with the regulation on 100 per cent repatriation of export proceeds.

b) It also appears that due to an undue speculation on exchange rate movements, there has been a reluctance to convert export earnings during the period from January 2020 to July 2021, thereby limiting inflows to the domestic foreign exchange market, which situation has then resulted in a buildup of foreign currency deposit balances with the banking sector by a significant US dollars 1.9 billion. In addition, with low rupee interest rates, some exporters have found it more lucrative to borrow and import to meet their input requirements, leading to further tension in the domestic market.

c) As per the data available, it would also be noted that if there had been a 100 per cent repatriation and 100 per cent conversion of export proceeds, the monthly export foreign exchange flow into the domestic market would have been US dollars 985 million, and with the average expenditure on imports of US dollars 1,670 million, that would have resulted in a monthly average gap of US dollars 685 million. This could have been easily financed using other foreign exchange inflows into the country.

d) Based on the above past statistics in general, and the experience during July/August 2021 in particular, the monthly average gap between the conversions of export proceeds with an incomplete repatriation and expenditure on imports has been quite alarming.

It would also be fair to state that there is a necessity for a country to ensure that the foreign exchange generated through export activities are duly repatriated into the country and converted into its currency. In fact, many emerging market economies have repatriation and conversion requirements imposed on merchandise and services exports. Country experiences vary, and over time, with the buildup of a country’s foreign exchange reserves through such non-debt inflows, countries have also gradually relaxed these requirements. Regional economies such as Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, and Thailand have export proceeds repatriation requirements currently in place varying from 3 months to 2 years of the export. Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Thailand have repatriation requirements on both goods and services export proceeds, while in Nepal, Malaysia and Indonesia, the repatriation requirement is only applicable on goods exports. Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Thailand have rules on conversion to respective local currencies in different percentages based on nature and the amount of repatriated export proceeds and their utilisation. Such repatriation and conversion requirements ensure the fulfillment of the demand for foreign currency, including intermediate and investment goods imports directly required by the export sector, as well as essential fuel and medical requirements of the country, which are indirect inputs to all sectors including the export sector.

Therefore, it would be reasonable for the Government (which supports the export sector through lower taxes and numerous other incentives) and the Central Bank (which is expected to deliver price and economic stability as well as financial system stability) to take steps to ensure the complete repatriation of export proceeds within a reasonable period and the conversion of inflows of export proceeds into the local currency, including the proceeds already accumulated in exporters’ accounts, so that the true purpose of exports is realised.

As would be well appreciated, an export would realise its objective only when it finally culminates in the flow of foreign exchange that is generated by the export into the country’s financial system in its local currency. That objective would obviously not be fulfilled if the final conversion of export proceeds into local currency does not take place. Accordingly, steps must be taken to strengthen the systems to ensure monitoring and to implement measures that lead to this objective. It is only then that the gap between the foreign exchange liquidity provided through exports and the foreign exchange liquidity demand for imports would reduce to the level as published in the Central Bank’s own reports.



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Norlanka Manufacturing Trincomalee receives LEED Gold Certification

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Norlanka Manufacturing Trincomalee was recently awarded the prestigious LEED Gold Certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).Norlanka, one of Sri Lanka’s largest sustainable exporters of baby and kidswear, has an extensive ESG (Environmental/Social/Governance) strategy and understands the responsibility it has concerning the future of a sustainable apparel industry. Therefore, ethical sourcing, in particular working with responsible supply chain partners has been a critical operational necessity.

The LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement, and it is backed by an entire industry of committed organizations and individuals paving the way for market transformation. It’s awarded for projects that have earned points by adhering to prerequisites and credits that address carbon, energy, water, waste, transportation, materials, health and indoor environmental quality. Buildings consume energy and resources at an alarming rate, therefore the LEED rating system is the most widely used green building rating system, as it provides a framework for healthy, efficient, carbon and cost-saving green buildings.

LEED takes multiple areas into account with varying sub-criteria when certifying a building such as location, transportation, sustainability of the site, construction, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resource, waste management, indoor environment quality, innovations and more.

Chief Innovation Officer of Norlanka, Buddhi Paranamana stated, “This LEED Gold certification is a testament to our constant drive to improve our sustainability efforts. This award marks yet another milestone in Norlanka’s journey towards becoming carbon neutral by 2025. Since 2010 we’ve constantly been learning how to do things in a more sustainable way. I would like to congratulate our team for obtaining this certification. It showcases dedication towards achieving sustainable excellence while achieving our goals and providing customers with high-quality products.”

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People’s Bank celebrates 75 years of Independence by offering gifts to newborns

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People’s Bank celebrated Sri Lanka’s 75thNational Independence at a modest ceremony held at their Head Office which was followed by a series of island wide initiatives.People’s Bank’s ‘Birth of Freedom’ programme which commences on every Independence Day was carried out this year as well. Under this concept, People’s Bank gifts Rs.2,000/- worth of an ‘IsuruUdana’ Gift Certificate to every baby born between the 1st and 14th of February.

People’s Bank launched this programme in 2006 with the vision of instilling national pride and encouraging parents to plan for their children’s future. Parents can open an ‘Isuru Udana’ Children’s Savings Account at any People’s Bank Branch using the Gift Certificate.

Director of the Castle Street Maternity Hospital Dr. Ajith Danthanarayana, Director of De Soysa Hospital for Women in Borella Dr. Pradeep Wijesinghe, People’s Bank Senior Deputy General Manager (TB & OCS) Rohan Pathirage, Deputy General Manager (Retail Banking) Renuka Jayasinghe, Deputy General Manager (Strategic Planning, Performance Management & Research) Jayanthi Kurukulasooriya, Deputy General Manager (Risk Management) Roshini Wijerathna, Deputy General Manager (Banking Support Services) Nipunika Wijayaratne, Deputy General Manager (Channel Management) T.M.W Chandrakumara, Head of Marketing Nalaka Wijayawardana, Assistant General Manager (Retail Banking) Nalin Pathiranage, Assistant General Manager (Human Resources) Manjula Dissanayake, Colombo North Regional Manager S.L.M.A.S Samarathunga, Colombo South Regional Manager M.S Kanakka Hewage, Borella Branch Manager W.A.N Udayangani, Town Hall Branch Manager Tiral Pradeep, Deputy Director of De Soysa Hospital for Women in Borella, Dr. K.M Nihal, Administrative Officer of Castle Street Hospital for Women S.M.T.A.R. Bandara, Nursing officers along with hospital staff were also present at the event.In line with the above all People’s Bank branches across the country initiated ‘Nidahase Upatha’ activities island wide.

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SL bondholders ready for debt restructuring talks with authorities– with conditions

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Sri Lanka’s bondholders have told the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that they are prepared to engage with Sri Lankan authorities in debt restructuring talks consistent with the parameters of the global lender’s program.The Ad Hoc Group of Sri Lanka bondholders conveyed its stance in a letter directed to IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva on Friday (Feb. 03).

“The Bondholder Group through its Steering Committee stands ready to engage quickly and effectively with the Sri Lankan authorities to design and implement restructuring terms that would help Sri Lanka restore debt sustainability and allow the country to re-gain access to the international capital markets during the IMF Programme period.”

The Bondholder Group acknowledged the Sri Lankan authorities’ engagement with their official creditors towards a resolution of the current crisis and restoration of debt sustainability.

The Bondholder Group further acknowledged that such engagement has recently resulted in the Indian government delivering letters of financing assurances to the IMF, committing to support Sri Lanka and contribute to its efforts to restore debt sustainability by providing debt relief and financing consistent with the IMF Extended Fund Facility Arrangement and the IMF Programme targets indicated in the India’s letter to the global lender.

Sri Lanka Bondholder Group Letter to IMF stated:

Based on the limited information available to us at this time, including information contained in the India Letter, we understand that the IMF Programme’s debt sustainability targets are identified as (i) reducing the ratio of public debt to GDP to 95% by 2032, (ii) limiting the central government’s annual gross financing needs to GDP ratio to 13% in the period between 2027 and 2032, and central government annual foreign currency debt service at 4.5% of GDP in every year between 2027 and 2032 and (iii) closing of the external financing gap.

The Bondholder Group hereby confirms it is prepared to engage, through its Steering Committee, with the Sri Lankan authorities in restructuring negotiations consistent with the parameters of an IMF Programme and the targets specified therein (the “IMF Programme Targets”), which the Bondholder Group understands to be the targets identified in the India Letter; it being recognized that these negotiations will necessarily be further informed by the receipt of the forthcoming DSA. We would note that the finalization of an agreement will also be subject to the satisfaction of the following conditions:

The central government’s domestic debt – defined as debt governed by local law – is reorganized in a manner that both ensures debt sustainability and safeguards financial stability. Assuming that annual gross financing needs should not exceed 13% of GDP in the period between 2027 and 2032, whilst allowing for central government annual foreign currency debt service to reach 4.5% of GDP in every year between 2027 and 2032, domestic gross financing should therefore be limited at 8.5% of GDP for the period 2027-2032.

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