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Sri Lanka’s debt repayments to be suspended until 2028

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Sri Lanka and a group of its creditors are in final negotiations to suspend debt repayments until 2028, Nikkei has learned, as country creditors including Japan seek to prevent China’s influence from expanding in the debt-ridden island.

“Negotiations [with the creditor nations] have concluded. We are hoping that it [a detailed announcement] will take place in the next few weeks,” Sagala Ratnayaka, Sri Lanka’s national security adviser to the president, told Nikkei in a recent interview. The repayment period will be 15 years, from 2028 to 2042, with the interest rate newly set at around 2%. He said that there will be no further debt reduction, despite a request by the island nation.

Sri Lanka in April 2022 announced a temporary suspension of public external debt payments, in effect putting the country into default. A meeting of creditor nations was set up in April 2023. Japan, which is the largest creditor country after China, is serving as the chair in the talks along with India and France.

Sri Lanka and the creditor nations have reached a basic agreement on a repayment moratorium and a reduction in interest. The provision of financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund, which was conditional on debt restructuring agreements being struck with major creditor countries, has also begun.

China, the biggest creditor, has only joined the meeting as an observer. However, the restructuring of debt from China via loans of the Export-Import Bank of China would be “similar,” Ratnayaka said. “We have a saying which means ‘everyone will be treated equally’,” implying that the terms of debt repayment to China would be similar to those agreed at the creditors’ meeting.

As of the end of 2023, Sri Lanka’s outstanding debt was $37.3 billion, of which China accounted for $4.7 billion.

Sri Lanka handed over control of its southern Hambantota Port to China in 2017. This was seen as a typical example of a “debt trap,” where infrastructure rights are taken away amid delayed debt repayments. Some creditors, including Japan and India, are wary of China expanding its influence into the Indo-Pacific, with Sri Lanka as its base.

Ratnayaka explained that “this is all purely commercial. There is nothing military [about the port agreement]. Sri Lanka is open to investment and we don’t pick and choose on the basis of what country, unless it affects national security.” He added, “But in the north and areas which would affect the security of India, we are conscious.”

(This story, originally published by asia.nikkei.com has not been edited by SLM staff)

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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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