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Some Sri Lanka firms could be hit on import controls as reserves fall: Fitch

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ECONOMYNEXT – Some Sri Lankan firms could be hit while firms in essential goods may be less affected and import substitution firms could benefit if import controls are tightened on weak external finances, Fitch, a rating agency said.

“Sri Lanka sovereign’s weak external finances will affect corporates importing non-essential finished goods such as consumer durables more than corporates importing essential finished goods such as pharmaceuticals, food or clothing,” Fitch said.

“At the same time, we believe restrictions are less likely in the near term on the importation of raw materials for the domestic manufacture of essential products such as personal care, or for those industries serving as import-substitutes such as tyre and footwear manufacturers.”

Inflated Reserve Money

Sri Lanka’s central bank has been injecting liquidity (inflating reserve money supply in excess of the external monetary anchor or peg) keeping interest rates and credit out of line with the balance of payments and triggering forex shortages.

The central bank has lost foreign reserves as the liquidity was used in state salaries and later in cascading bank credit, and the news money redeemed against foreign reserves for imports or debt payments at a non-credible peg (convertibility undertaking).

The convertibility undertaking has far shifted from around 185 to 203 to the US dollar since early 2020. After convertibility was restricted for trade transactions, as well as some capital transfers banks started to ration dollars.

Parallel exchange rates have also risen as a result.

Due to Mercantilist beliefs – which are also taught in Keynesian universities – monetary instability has been blamed on imports, and authorities tried to control imports.

In Sri Lanka oil often is blamed for currency falls, though liquidity injections in 2015 created a currency crisis as global oil prices collapsed.

However as credit driven by the new liquidity shifted to permitted areas, the trade deficit had exceeded the 2019 levels by May 2021.

In June some import restrictions were relaxed.

Non-Essential

Among Fitch Rated firms, consumer durables sellers were likely to be most affected.

“Singer (Sri Lanka) PLC (AA(lka)/Stable) and Abans PLC (AA(lka)/Stable) are the most exposed among Fitch-rated corporates to tighter import controls, due to the discretionary nature of their products,” the rating agency said.

“A tightening in import controls may exert pressure on both entities’ ratings, owing to low headroom. However, the availability of buffer inventories, a degree of local manufacturing, and potential group synergies in the case of Singer, could help mitigate the impact in the near term.”

Meanwhile firms that critics call crony import substitution firms which have actively lobbied politicians for protection in the past to create a domestic ‘black market’ at high prices could benefit.

“We expect sales volumes for domestic manufacturers to rise in the near term as they attempt to fill shortages created by import restrictions,” Fitch said.

“Therefore, corporates such as the domestic tyre manufacturer Ceat Kelani Holdings (Private) Limited (CKH, AA+(lka)/Stable), footwear manufacture and retailer DSI Samson Group (Private) Limited (DSG, AA(lka)/Stable), as well as electric cable producer Sierra Cables PLC (AA-(lka)/Negative), may be long-term beneficiaries as their products serve as import substitutes.”

Neutral

The impact on alcohol, beverage and phamarceuticals may be neutral.

“We believe pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors such as Hemas Holdings PLC (AAA(lka)/Stable) and Sunshine Holdings PLC (AA+(lka)/Stable) are less likely to see tighter import restrictions despite significant import exposure,” Fitch said.

“This is because of the essential nature of their goods, and limited availability of their products in the local market.

“Hemas and Sunshine have limited domestic manufacturing capabilities for certain generic drugs, while around 90% of the pharmaceutical products they sell are imported.

“This is because domestic pharmaceutical manufacturing is at a nascent stage, with producers lacking the technological know-how and infrastructure near term as they attempt to fill shortages created by import restrictions.”

 

 



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National Trade Facilitation Committee Secretariat to be established

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The NTFC review meeting in progress

In an effort to accelerate trade facilitation commitments and bolster the business landscape in Sri Lanka, a high-level review of the National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) was conducted at the Presidential Secretariat on Wednesday (7).

The review focused on assessing the progress of trade facilitation commitments and scrutinizing the performance of the NTFC Secretariat. The private sector also voiced their views on expediting actions to ensure the completion of measures ahead of the projected timeline of 2025-2030.

In order to streamline compliance and optimize performance, several directives were issued during the meeting. Firstly, it was decided to establish the NTFC Secretariat under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance. Secondly, immediate measures to be taken to address the staffing requirements of the Secretariat and lastly, the budget allocated for the NTFC Secretariat in 2023, currently under the Department of Customs, was to be transferred to the Ministry of Finance to prioritize pending actions such as the development of the NTFC website and progress reporting system.

During the meeting, deliberations took place concerning the proposed National Single Window, a system aimed at simplifying and expediting trade processes. The participants agreed to expedite the submission of the proposal in a sequential manner to ensure its swift implementation.

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PM discusses ADB future projects in Sri Lanka with ADB DG and new Country Director

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Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Director General for South Asia Kenichi Yokoyama and newly appointed Country Director Takafumi Kadono held discussions with Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena on Thursday (June 8) at the Temple Trees in Colombo.

The Prime Minister, while welcoming the new Director General thanked the outgoing DG, Chen Chen for the support extended to Sri Lanka during the height of Covid pandemic and the economic crisis. He thanked the ADB for extending short term, immediate contingency support which has helped Sri Lankan economy to recover from the unprecedented crisis within a short period of time. ADB loan funds amounting to USD 380 mn were targeted for enhancing fiscal space and efficient public financial management system as well as strengthening the SME sector with access to finance. Further USD 250 mn was obtained as budgetary support to develop Capital Market.

The Prime Minister made a special mention about ADB’s US$ 333 million emergency assistance to support import of essential items such as fertilizer, medicines and chemicals for water treatment, working capital support to SMEs, and cash transfer to most poor and vulnerable to mitigate the impact of economic crisis.

ADB Director General for South Asia Keinichi Yokohoma, praised the recovery made by Sri Lankan economy and briefed the Prime Minister about the ADB’s mid-term and long-term projects for economic progress and infrastructure development.

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ADB provides Sri Lanka access to concessional financing to facilitate sustained and inclusive recovery

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Kenichi Yokoyama, Director General of ADB's South Asia Department

Low interest -rate financing broadens country’s options to bridge urgent development financing needs

ADB support now comes in concessional and market-based financing, technical assistance, policy advice, and knowledge solutions

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved the eligibility of Sri Lanka to access concessional financing. The availability of concessional assistance, offered at low interest rates, broadens Sri Lanka’s options to bridge its urgent development financing needs to restore economic stability and deliver essential services, particularly to the poor and vulnerable.

Eligibility for concessional resources among the developing member countries of ADB is based on gross national income per capita and creditworthiness. ADB’s decision was considered based on a request from the Government of Sri Lanka in view of the severe and unprecedented economic crisis that has reversed hard-won development gains.

“ADB is committed to further enhancing its support for the people of Sri Lanka as the country responds to this deep crisis that has severely undermined their livelihoods and well-being,” said ADB Director General for South Asia Kenichi Yokoyama. “The availability of concessional assistance will help Sri Lanka to lay the foundation for economic recovery and sustained, inclusive growth.”

Sri Lanka is now eligible for ADB support including concessional and market-based financing, technical assistance, policy advice, and knowledge solutions that together comprise a comprehensive suite of options to address the crisis. Access to concessional financing will also ease debt servicing pressures through more favorable lending terms.

ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.

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