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Govt. expects to finalize foreign debt restructuring process by June – Sabry

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Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Sabry, announced the government’s expectation to finalize the foreign debt restructuring process by June. If successful, this endeavour could lead to a reduction of approximately US $17 billion of Sri Lanka’s debt burden.

He also said that the primary focus is on navigating the challenge of debt restructuring. The initial phase of domestic debt restructuring has been completed, with attention now turned to foreign debt restructuring. Negotiations with private investors linked to sovereign bonds aim to finalize this phase by June, with a targeted completion before June 2024. Successful restructuring could result in a $17 billion advantage for Sri Lanka, potentially reducing debt burden through various means. These efforts will also facilitate the continuation of developmental activities within the country.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry made these remarks while attending the ‘Collective Path to a Stable Country’ press briefing held at the Presidential Media Centre (PMC) this morning (08). He gave a brief overview of the recent foreign policy decisions, the foreign relations and the high-level visits the Sri Lankan government has undertaken, particularly the recent visit of the Japanese Foreign Minister and the visit of the Iranian President.

The Minister also emphasized that Sri Lanka’s adherence to a non-aligned foreign policy, coupled with its commitment to maintaining relations with all nations while safeguarding its sovereignty, has resulted in numerous concessions for the country.

Minister Ali Sabry further highlighted the government’s endeavours to garner support for Sri Lanka’s economic development by fostering strong ties with both China and India.

Minister Ali Sabry, also reiterated:

“Sri Lanka prides itself on upholding an independent foreign policy, which doesn’t mean isolation but rather engaging with all nations—a concept known as non-alignment. Our commitment lies in maintaining this legacy of non-alignment, independence, and the sovereignty of our Parliament and state. Hence, it’s crucial for us to collaborate with both Eastern and Western nations, nurturing closer ties with our allies.

Over time, we’ve cultivated strong relationships with Western and Eastern countries, as well as our neighbours, which have proven invaluable in overcoming economic challenges.

Securing support from major partners and creditors, including the U.S., France, India and China, was pivotal during negotiations with the IMF. We’ve made progress in debt restructuring, gaining the backing of the Official Creditor Committee and comprising nations like India, Japan and the Paris Club. Our aim is to conclude debt restructuring by the end of June, with the support of all major players. This includes finalizing agreements with China. Once debt restructuring is achieved, mainly the external debt restructuring, we can focus on fostering economic growth through partnerships with various parties. Our on-going engagement with China, evident through visits by the President, Prime Minister, and myself, underscores our commitment to this approach.

Currently, our primary focus lies in effectively navigating the challenge of debt restructuring. We have successfully completed the initial phase, addressing domestic debt restructuring. Moving forward, our attention turns to the next crucial steps, particularly foreign debt restructuring. Our aim is to diligently negotiate and finalize this phase by the end of June, specifically engaging with private investors associated with sovereign bonds. The government is determined to achieve this milestone before June 2024.

Upon successful completion, Sri Lanka stands to gain a significant advantage of US $17 billion throughout the entire restructuring process. This advantage may manifest in various forms, including reductions in principal amounts, interest payments, or extended repayment timelines. Such restructuring efforts hold the potential to alleviate our debt burden by US $17 billion. Simultaneously, these endeavours will pave the way for the continuation of developmental activities within the country at the earliest opportunity.

The Prime Minister’s recent visit to China, where we signed nine MoUs, reflects our on-going efforts to strengthen ties. Particularly with India, a considerable progress has been made in our collaboration with India, with significant Indian investments currently underway. Additionally, the recent approval by the Cabinet of tariffs and Power Purchase Agreements with the Adani Group at US $0.08 per unit is a notable development.

As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we adhere strictly to international rules and regulations in our interactions with foreign countries. Consequently, the visit of the Iranian President to Sri Lanka raised no concerns within the international community. In parallel, we’re actively seeking to attract more investors, as demonstrated by the successful visit of the Iranian President, which led to the inauguration of the Uma Oya project contributing 120 megawatts to our energy grid. Furthermore, we anticipate increased tourism from the region with news of Mahan Air, the Iranian airline, expressing interest in flying to Sri Lanka.

In recent developments, the visit of the Japanese Foreign Minister to Sri Lanka marked an important milestone. Japan has pledged its moral support and endorsed the Sri Lanka’s economic reforms. During discussions, Japan officially encouraged and praised the bold economic reforms that the Sri Lankan government is undertaking and affirmed its commitment to restarting stalled projects. This collaboration with our partners is pivotal in driving our economic agenda forward and fostering development.

Saudi Arabia has shown a keen interest in investing in Sri Lanka. Notably, Middle Eastern nations are actively seeking to diversify their economies away from fuel dependency and are exploring investment opportunities abroad. We are diligently working to capitalize on these opportunities for the benefit of Sri Lanka.

To position Sri Lanka as a premier tourist destination, we must shift our focus away from visa fees. Instead, we should consider offering free visas to citizens of approximately fifty countries. Such a move could ignite excitement within the tourism sector and bolster visitor numbers.

Furthermore, diplomatic initiatives are currently in progress to retrieve Sri Lankans detained by smugglers in Myanmar and to protect our youth enlisted in mercenary forces linked to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. These issues have also been addressed with Russian security authorities.

(President’s Media Division)

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SL – Indonesia pledge stronger bilateral ties

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In a significant bilateral meeting during the 10th World Water Summit, President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Indonesian President Joko Widodo reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening the longstanding relationship between their nations. The discussions, which covered a wide range of regional and international issues, underscored the importance of collaboration in addressing global challenges.

President Wickremesinghe, in his opening remarks, highlighted the historical ties between Sri Lanka and Indonesia, dating back to their joint participation in the 1956 Bandung Conference. He expressed appreciation for President Widodo’s leadership in regional, international, and bilateral matters, noting the importance of such summits in fostering global cooperation.

A major topic of discussion was the critical issue of water management. President Wickremesinghe emphasized the importance of the World Water Summit and expressed Sri Lanka’s willingness to participate in the Global Blended Financial Alliance, an initiative aimed at addressing common financial challenges faced by countries in managing water resources. He commended Indonesia for establishing a Secretariat for the Alliance, recognizing its significance for Sri Lanka.

President Widodo, in his remarks, focused on the economic cooperation between the two countries. He stressed the need to finalize the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) by the first quarter of 2025 to enhance economic ties. Additionally, he highlighted Indonesia’s interest in entering the Sri Lankan vaccine market through Indonesian pharmaceutical companies, and called for the lifting of import restrictions on Indonesian palm oil and related products.

The Indonesian President also showcased Indonesia’s advancements in renewable energy, specifically the country’s largest floating solar power project. He emphasized the importance of hydro diplomacy and political leadership in achieving sustainable water management and development goals. Furthermore, he welcomed Sri Lanka’s leadership in the Indian Ocean Rim Association and its aspirations to become a sectoral dialogue partner.

President Wickremesinghe reiterated the importance of completing the PTA by early 2025, noting Sri Lanka’s existing free trade agreements with India, Singapore, and ongoing negotiations with Thailand, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. He emphasized the potential benefits of joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), suggesting that Sri Lanka’s inclusion could encourage other South Asian countries to follow suit. 

He also mentioned the ongoing removal of import restrictions and assured that Sri Lankan health authorities would address the entry of Indonesian pharmaceuticals into the market.

The discussion also touched upon regional security and economic cooperation in the Indian Ocean. President Wickremesinghe supported ASEAN’s Indo-Pacific outlook and stressed the need for closer bilateral and regional cooperation regarding Indian Ocean affairs. He proposed more frequent meetings between heads of government and a specific bilateral agreement with Indonesia to enhance commercial collaboration in the region.

President Widodo thanked Sri Lanka for co-sponsoring the Global Blended Financial Alliance, emphasizing its role in achieving sustainable development goals. He called for continued collaboration between relevant ministries from both countries to support this initiative. Looking ahead, President Widodo mentioned the upcoming presidential transition in Indonesia and expressed hope that the new administration would continue to strengthen ties with Sri Lanka.

In conclusion, President Wickremesinghe expressed his eagerness to work with Indonesia’s new leadership and extended a personal invitation to President Widodo to visit Sri Lanka after his term ends in October. Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to enhancing bilateral relations and addressing shared global challenges through continued cooperation.

(President’s Media Division)

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Sri Lanka declares tomorrow a day of mourning

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Sri Lanka has declared tomorrow (May 21) as a day of mourning in view of the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

The national flag will fly at half mast at all government institutions.

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2 crucial Bills to Parliament on May 22

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Acting Finance Minister Shehan Semasinghe announced plans to introduce two significant bills to Parliament on May 22, aimed at bolstering the country’s economy. 

These bills, the “Economic Transformation Bill” and the “Public Financial Management Bill,” are designed to enhance the management of public finances, thereby safeguarding against future economic downturns. 

Minister Semasinghe made this announcement during a press conference at the Presidential Media Centre today, themed ‘Collective path to a stable country’.

Acting Finance Minister  Shehan Semasinghe, further stated : 

‘The government has scheduled the submission of two significant bills crucial for the country’s economy on May 22. One of these bills is the “Economic Transformation Law,” aimed at preventing future economic collapses. Notably, this legislation stems from the vision of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, rather than being proposed by the International Monetary Fund. The recent stabilization of the economy following previous downturns underscores the importance of preserving this stability going forward.

Additionally, it is necessary to maintain optimal levels of public financial management to avert future economic crises. The “Public Finance Management Bill” is set to be presented to Parliament on the same day, with a focus on enhancing accountability in managing public finances. This legislative initiative aligns with recommendations from a collaborative program with the International Monetary Fund and holds significant importance for the country’s future financial management.

It’s important to underscore the critical significance of both these bills for the country’s future. These drafts contain numerous technical intricacies aimed at bolstering confidence in the economy and maintaining the trajectory of the new economic direction implemented thus far.

Further elaborating on the Economic Transformation Bill, it holds paramount importance for the country’s economic growth. Despite experiencing economic contraction in the second and third quarters of 2023, a notable growth rate of 4.5% was achieved in the fourth quarter. Consequently, the benefits of this economic upturn have started permeating to the grassroots level within the country.

Furthermore, it is imperative to enhance the economic competitiveness of the nation and adapt the economy to confront global challenges while fostering international cooperation and growth. Additionally, this bill addresses necessary changes in various sectors.

Specifically, the legislation encompasses reforms essential for international trade, trade agreements, and climate change mitigation efforts. 

The establishment of a new Economic Commission in Sri Lanka, aimed at attracting investments to enhance competitiveness, fostering a conducive environment for investors, expanding international trade, establishing the National Productivity Commission, and developing export-related institutions, is also outlined in this bill.

Recently, Parliament endorsed the decisions made, particularly regarding economic transformation. In 2022, the public debt ratio stood at 128%, a figure slated to be reduced to less than 95% by 2032. 

Similarly, the fiscal requirement, which was 34.6% of the gross domestic product in 2022, aims to be lowered to below 13% by 2032.

Effective debt servicing is paramount, with efforts focused on establishing Sri Lanka as a debt-sustainable nation capable of meeting its obligations. The aim is to reduce the debt payment ratio from 9.4% in 2022 to below 4.5% by 2027.

A proposed bill will outline specific national goals and actions taken to address economic challenges, providing a roadmap for sustainable economic growth, debt management, agricultural modernization, import-export regulation, and economic governance.

Additionally, considerable attention has been given to the Public Finance Management Bill, aimed at identifying weaknesses in the current legislation and proposing a robust legal framework to meet future needs.

(President’s Media Division)

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