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Sri Lanka-Iran ‘tea-for-oil’ barter agreement progresses with over $20 million settled

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The ongoing Sri Lanka and Iran ‘tea-for-oil’ barter agreement is now making strong progress and Sri Lanka has already settled over USD 20 million to Iran.

“This agreement was to settle a total of USD 250 million for purchases made by Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) for oil imported from Iran in 2012”, said Chairman Sri Lanka Tea Board (SLTB) Niraj De Mel in a special interview with ‘Daily News Business’.

In a bid to save draining of foreign exchange from Sri Lanka to service the high petroleum imports the then Minister of Finance, Mangala Samaraweera and Dr. Romesh Pathirana talked to National Iranian Oil Company of Iran officials since 2019 to trade tea instead of paying in USD when purchasing fuel to protect local forex reserves. 

The barter was agreed in 2021 for oil imported in 2012 however due to the economic crisis this deal was only signed last year.

“Since then we have made very strong progress and up to December 2023 we have settled around USD 20 million.”

Explaining the modalities of the agreement he said that the local tea exporters to Iran get paid in Sri Lanka rupees by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation. 

SLTB will be settling payments to Sri Lanka tea exporters upon confirmation of tea consignments are shipped to Iran by the tea exporters. This is scrutinized through a recognized Audit Firm.

“The agreement is to send USD 5 million worth of tea each month to Iran for 48 months.”

De Mel said that with Iran facing a cold climate in the next few months we expect the demand for local tea to increase. 

“Hence we have requested the Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera to increase the monthly USD 5 allocation (equivalent to Sri Lankan rupees) made by them to local tea exporters. We have requested the Minister to increase this to USD 10 million and he has responded to this request positively.”

De Mel said that though there are some international restrictions imposed on Iran this ‘tea-for-oil’ barter agreement does not violate it. 

“This scheme will not violate any UN or US sanctions since tea has been categorized as a food item under humanitarian grounds while none of the black listed Iranian banks will be involved in the equation.”

The total revenue realized for the period January – December 2023 from tea exports was USD 1.31 billion compared with USD 1.27 Billion recorded for the period January to December 2022. 

The increase of tea exports was USD 1.31 billion compared to the same period in 2022.

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Rs. 20 Bn loan lifeline for SMEs

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The government has taken measures to implement a Rs.20 billion credit scheme to revive the micro, small and medium enterprise sector in Sri Lanka.  

Accordingly, the Cabinet of Ministers has granted its consent to the proposal forwarded by President Ranil Wickremesinghe in his capacity as the Finance, Economic Stabilization and National Policies Minister to implement a credit scheme to revive the micro, small and medium enterprise sector.

Speaking at the weekly Cabinet media briefing held yesterday at the Government Information Department, Cabinet Spokesman, Transport, Highways and Mass Media Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardhana said the proposed Rs.20 billion will be spent on the entire project which has two components.

“Out of this, Rs.15 billion will be used to strengthen existing and new enterprises and the remaining amount of Rs.five billion will be used to support enterprises under the non-performing loan category.

A significant number of small and medium scale entrepreneurs involved in manufacturing, import, export, tourism, apparel and various other commercial operations have found it very difficult to continue running their enterprises as a result of the economic downturn and the impact of external factors beyond their control.

The Asian Development Bank has agreed to provide working capital support for the Small and Medium Enterprise sector as a relief. The proposed programme is intended to provide credit facilities to existing micro, small and medium scale enterprises for further expansion and recovery of their businesses through licensed commercial banks and licensed specialised banks at concessional interest rates.

(dailynews.lk)

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Won’t be able to offer SriLankan to investors even for free – Minister

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Ports, Shipping, and Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva yesterday (26) spoke firmly on the national carrier – SriLankan Airlines, stating that the airline’s disruptive employees and tarnished reputation would deter potential buyers in the privatisation process.

Speaking at a media briefing yesterday, he said  “We cannot run an airline with disruptive employees. This is a critical moment for SriLankan Airlines. We cannot afford to entertain employees who fail to handle situations under pressure.”

“The deadline for the Expressions of Interest (EOIs) is set for 5 March and in the present scenario, according to the information I received some of the bidders want to withdraw. With the negative reputation plaguing the airline, we will not be in a position to offer it free-of-charge even,” the minister claimed.

However, SriLankan Airlines Chairman Ashok Pathirage’s views had contrasted starkly with that of Minister de Silva.

The discussion saw a disagreement regarding ground handling. Minister De Silva advocated for immediate privatization of the service, citing shortcomings. Chairman Pathirage, while acknowledging areas for improvement, argued that the lack of aircraft, not ground handling, was the primary issue. He blamed lengthy government procurement procedures for hindering fleet acquisition.

De Silva justified his push for privatization by citing the airline’s struggles and reports of potential bidders withdrawing their interest. While not inherently opposed to privatization, Pathirage emphasized the ongoing process and the lack of control the airline has in the decision.

Meanwhile, trade union representatives commended Pathirage for his leadership whilst blaming political interventions and its past management. 

“We all undoubtedly praise the Chairman for his leadership and unwavering commitment to operate this airline amidst all odds. Neither the employees nor the current management of the SriLankan Airlines are responsible for the cancellations and bad reputation, but the political intervention,” they stated.

They also slammed the former COPE Chairmen and MPs Dr. Harsha de Silva and Dr. Charitha Herath for disrupting the lease procedure of the airline when the aircraft were at a lower price. “They are responsible for all the operational delays the airline is facing at present,” they claimed.

(Excerpts : DailyFT)

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Australia’s United Petroleum enters SL market

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Australia’s United Petroleum has entered into an agreement with the Sri Lankan government to supply petroleum products to the Sri Lankan market.

According to United Petroleum Lanka, Australia’s United Petroleum entered into the relevant agreement with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Power and Energy on Feb 22.

Following the signing of the agreement, United Petroleum is assigned 150 existing fuel stations and also has the right to build 50 new fuel stations in Sri Lanka.

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