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The current exchange rate arrangement

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Background, positive impact thus far, and expected outcomes

This note is intended to explain to the general public the background to the current exchange rate arrangement, and the positive impact it has already made, and expected outcomes in the period ahead.

The country is facing extremely challenging economic circumstances at present while it is going through the worst balance of payments crisis in history. The Sri Lanka rupee was subject to tremendous depreciation pressure, amidst the shortage of foreign exchange liquidity in the domestic foreign exchange market, warranting a measured adjustment in the determination of the exchange rate in early March 2022, compared to the level that prevailed in the market amidst concerns about the adverse impact of any large depreciation of the exchange rate on the society. However, the outcome of the exchange rate flexibility that was thereafter allowed following the initial measured adjustment fell short of expectations due to the large overshooting by market forces, reflecting the significant liquidity pressures that prevailed in the domestic foreign exchange market as well as the delay in market correction.

This behaviour of exchange rate since allowing more flexibility in March 2022 suggests the need for careful sequencing of measures when allowing flexibility in exchange rate under balance of payments crisis conditions. Following the excessive depreciation, inflation accelerated significantly through imported prices, while second-round effects of such excessive depreciation on other goods and services were also observed subsequently. Moreover, due to the acute shortage of foreign exchange in the domestic foreign exchange market, along with continuous depreciation of exchange rate, the conversions of foreign exchange by the foreign exchange holders delayed due to expectation of further depreciation and high premium offered in the grey market, thus adding further pressures on the currency. Meanwhile, the demand for foreign exchange in the grey market thrived to part finance rising import demand outside the banking system, causing further pressures on the currency as well as heightening stresses in the banking system.

This significant volatility of the exchange rates drove up the interbank exchange rates as well as customer buying and selling rates in an abrupt nature, causing undue speculation on the currency. Against this backdrop, limiting the extent of depreciation and excessive volatility became necessary. If remained unresolved, such boundless rate of depreciation of the exchange rate could have led to extremely detrimental impact on overall macroeconomic stability, given the severity of the balance of payment crisis that the country is going through at the moment.

Further, during the discussions with the Heads of Treasuries of licensed commercial banks, the need for some guidance to the market from the Central Bank on the degree of volatility of the exchange rate movements was emphasized, while the commercial banks have the prerogative to determine the interbank spot market exchange rate. In consultation with the market players, the Central Bank commenced providing daily guidance on the degree of volatility (with an allowable two-sided variation margin) to all licensed commercial banks from 13 May 2022 based on exchange rate determined in the interbank market on the preceding day. Although this arrangement is often misinterpreted as ‘pegged exchange rate’ regime, there are clear distinctions between the current transitory arrangement and the pegged exchange rate system.

Under the pegged exchange rate regime a fixed middle rate is usually dictated by a central bank, while market driven variable spot rate being considered as the middle rate under the current arrangement. The implementation of this arrangement has brought in a greater stability in the exchange rate determination in both formal market and grey market thus far, while also minimizing excessive margins prevailed in both markets, and the effects of the same are expected to reflect in the exchange rates used for customer transactions.

According to the feedback received from the stakeholders, there exists broader consensus on the current arrangement of the exchange rate, which is market driven with less volatility and more predictability, compared to the earlier arrangement, which experienced excessively volatile of the exchange rate driven more by speculation rather than market forces and economic fundamentals. 3 The Government and the Central Bank implemented several complementary measures, alongside the current exchange rate arrangement, to correct some of the imbalances observed in the external sector, thereby bringing about stability in the domestic foreign exchange market. Restrictions imposed on open accounts and consignment payments terms have helped curtail activity in the grey market, thereby narrowing the gap between the official exchange rate and the grey market rate.



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NCE highlights costs of Customs officers’ trade union action

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‘The recent actions taken by the Sri Lanka Customs Officers Union, including a two-day sick leave campaign and work-to-rule initiatives, have had profound implications across Sri Lanka’s business community, particularly affecting exporters and importers. These actions were initiated due to perceived grievances and unmet demands from the Customs Officers Union on various issues, the National Chamber of Exporters of Sri Lanka (NCE) is quoted as saying in a press release.

The release adds: ‘Jayantha Karunaratne, president of the National Chamber of Exporters of Sri Lanka highlighted the significant disruptions caused by these actions. He emphasized that the work-to-rule approach has resulted in substantial delays in clearing imported goods at ports and checkpoints, causing disruptions in production schedules and logistical operations. These delays have particularly impacted exporters, who face stringent deadlines to fulfill international orders, leading to strained relationships with overseas buyers and potential financial penalties for missed deliveries.

‘Additionally, these disruptions have imposed additional costs on businesses. Importers have incurred demurrage charges due to extended delays in clearing shipments, impacting profitability and operational efficiency. For exporters handling perishable goods like seafood and fresh produce, delays have posed substantial challenges, sometimes resulting in significant financial losses and resource wastage from spoiled goods.

‘The NCE underscored Customs’ critical role in facilitating trade and economic activity in Sri Lanka, stressing that efficient and predictable Customs processes are crucial for maintaining the competitiveness of Sri Lankan businesses globally. Given that exports are pivotal to Sri Lanka’s economy, disruptions to Customs operations can have far-reaching impacts on economic growth, employment, and overall national prosperity.

‘Expressing serious concern about potential escalations, the NCE warned that prolonged strikes or ongoing disruptions could further destabilize business confidence and investor sentiment. They urged swift and constructive dialogue between the Customs Officers’ Union and relevant authorities to address grievances and find mutually beneficial solutions. Restoring normalcy and reliability to Customs operations, they emphasized, is imperative to support the resilience and growth of Sri Lanka’s export sector amid challenging global economic conditions.

‘In addition to operational disruptions, exporters are increasingly voicing frustration and concerns about Sri Lanka’s future business environment. Many are contemplating relocating operations to countries offering more stable and predictable trade conditions. This potential exodus poses significant economic risks, including job losses, reduced export revenues, and diminished investor confidence.

‘Shiham Marikar, Secretary General/CEO of NCE, stressed the urgent need for Sri Lanka to address these challenges promptly to retain and attract businesses. He emphasized the importance of creating a supportive environment for exporters characterized by efficient Customs processes, regulatory stability, and supportive government policies. Such an environment is crucial for retaining existing exporters and attracting new investments, thereby fostering economic growth and enhancing competitiveness in global markets.

‘Highlighting the competitive nature of the global economy, the NCE emphasized the necessity for Sri Lanka to maintain a reliable and efficient trade infrastructure to remain competitive internationally. Addressing exporter concerns and ensuring a stable business environment should be a top priority for policymakers and stakeholders alike.

‘It is crucial for the government to take swift action to prevent recurring disruptions caused by the Customs Officers’ Union. The recent disruptions have disproportionately affected Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which are the backbone of Sri Lanka’s economy. SMEs, operating with smaller margins and less flexibility, are particularly vulnerable to delays and uncertainties in trade operations.

‘These disruptions not only impact daily SME operations but also undermine their competitiveness in domestic and international markets. Many SMEs rely heavily on timely imports and efficient exports to sustain operations, making disruptions detrimental to their growth and viability. Prolonged instability in trade operations risks SMEs relocating or downsizing operations in Sri Lanka, posing significant threats to employment, economic growth, and overall stability.

‘The NCE urged the government to implement robust measures to prevent future disruptions, including constructive dialogue with Customs officers and reforms enhancing Customs efficiency and predictability. Creating a stable and supportive business environment is crucial for protecting SMEs and fostering their growth, thereby contributing to Sri Lanka’s economic resilience and prosperity’.

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Elevating customer experiences, Sampath Bank partners with Royal Colombo Golf Club

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The team from Royal Colombo Golf Club, including Amrith De Soysa – Captain, Gehan Siribaddanan – Vice Captain, Ms. Geera Gajamugan – Director of Administration and Shiran D. Rahuman – Manager of Marketing & Membership Services, stands on the left. De Soysa is seen receiving the main sponsorship from Ms, Ayodhya Iddawela – Managing Director of Sampath Bank PLC, surrounded by Tharaka Ranwala, SDGM – Marketing, Customer Care and Card Centre, Pujitha Rajapaksa, Chief Manager – Marketing and Shantha Kalawitigoda, Manager – Events & Activations.

Sampath Bank is pleased to announce its sponsorship of the prestigious July Monthly Medal Event at the Royal Colombo Golf Club (RCGC), scheduled for the 12th and 13th of July 2024. The sponsorship was formalised during a cheque-handing ceremony on the 10th of July, marking a significant collaboration between Sampath Bank and the RCGC.

The July Monthly Medal Event is a highlight on the golfing calendar, attracting over 300 golfers from across the country. The event will be held over two days, culminating in an award ceremony on the second day. Sampath Bank’s involvement acknowledges its commitment to fostering customer satisfaction and providing exceptional experiences for its valued customers.

Participants in the event will enjoy a variety of activities, including a golf practice session with coaching, the main golf tournament, and an exclusive Cheese & Wine evening on the first day for Sampath Bank customers. Following the two-day tournament, there will be a grand award ceremony and a cocktail event to honour the winners. This initiative not only promotes golf but also provides a unique platform for high-net-worth individuals to engage in a distinguished social setting.

Commenting on the sponsorship, Tharaka Ranwala, Senior Deputy General Manager Marketing, Customer Care & Card Centre, said, “Sampath Bank has always been a strong supporter of all sports, though golf has traditionally been less highlighted, despite its popularity among elite and high-net-worth customers within the banking industry. Sponsoring this event aligns perfectly with our new vision and strategy, which emphasises a greater focus on corporate customers and high-net-worth individuals. Although this is our first partnership with the Royal Colombo Golf Club, we bring extensive experience from our previous collaborations with the Tamil Golf Association’s events in the UK and Canada.”

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Asiri Hospitals and NITF sign landmark agreement to provide tangible healthcare benefits for all Agrahara members

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Asiri Group of Hospitals, trusted for high standards in patient-centered care has signed a landmark agreement with the National Insurance Trust Fund (NITF), to provide comprehensive concessions to all government employees through the Agrahara Medical Insurance scheme.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by Dr. Manjula Karunaratne, Director/Group CEO of Asiri Hospitals, and Gamani N. Liyanarachchi, CEO of NITF, during a ceremony held recently.

The event was attended by several distinguished participants from both organizations. Representing NITF were Sagala Abhayawickrama, Chairperson, Samil Thushara, AGM Operations, Nimali Pathirana, AGM Insurance, Prathibha Welikanna, Asst. Manager Legal, Nuwan Dissanayake, Asst. Manager Marketing, Dammika Weerakoon, Acting AGM Finance.

Asiri Hospitals was represented by Nihal Ratnayake, Director Operations Asiri Central Hospital, Indresh Fernando, Chief Process Officer, Bhathiya Jayasinghe, Group Head, Business Development, Dhananjaya Bandara Dela, Head of Business Development, Government Sector.

The enduring partnership aims to offer tangible healthcare benefits and the renowned comprehensive healthcare services offered by Asiri Hospitals to all NITF Agrahara members. It marks a major milestone in Asiri Hospitals’ commitment to build long-term collaborations that benefits the community. It also reaffirms Asiri Hospitals’ position as a trusted healthcare provider ensuring healthcare is more accessible, affordable, while uplifting the living standards of the public service.

Importantly, Agrahara members are eligible to seek treatment from any hospital in the Asiri group or its laboratories. The agreement also introduces a cashless admission scheme for NITF members, simplifying the process and enabling seamless access to Asiri Hospitals’ services without the need for upfront payments. Members can benefit from waived admission fees, reducing the financial burden for those seeking medical care. Room rates are also heavily discounted.

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