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Sri Lanka Central bank defends controversial export dollar surrender rules

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s central bank has defended new exporter dollar surrender requirements, which applies to both merchandise and services exports, imposed after money printing created forex shortages.

The new rules which allows for deductions, represent a relaxation for exporters with large import content, the central bank said.

“The residual after the utilisation of export proceeds as above will have to be converted into Sri Lanka Rupees,” the monetary authority said.

“This method, followed by several other countries, ensures that exports with a large import content are not penalised, while enabling exports with a higher domestic value addition to convert a greater percentage of proceeds, after meeting foreign currency financial obligations of such enterprises.”

Analysts had warned that then the official 203 to the US dollar is on the weak side, surrender requirements inject new money, further loosening the credit system, which is already bleeding dollars due to liquidity injections and low rates out of line with domestic credit developments.

However the central bank has been re-selling dollars to importers.

There have been also concerns that export revenues would also be diverted to unofficial channels, like remittances were diverted.

Exporters of services would find it even more easier to divert earnings and price service at or below cost, analysts say.

The full statement is reproduced below.

08 November2021
Communications Department

New rules to convert export proceeds will result in multiple benefits to the country and have no impact on inward remittances by Sri Lankans working abroad.

Sri Lanka has embarked on a focused path towards ensuring macro-economic and financial system stability, having faced strong headwinds from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic resulted in a substantial loss of foreign exchange revenues to the country, but unprecedented support provided by the Government and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), from fiscal, monetary and public health aspects, has helped a strong rebound of the economy as well as a considerable recovery in some foreign exchange earning sectors.

The tourism sector is also expected to display a notable recovery in the period ahead, and concerted efforts are taken to improve worker remittance inflows through formal channels.

Recent tensions in the forex market have also highlighted the need for Sri Lanka to increase its reliance on foreign exchange earnings over time to strengthen the economy, rather than increasing its foreign borrowings which exposes the economy to various types of shocks.

In this context, in February 2021, the CBSL issued Rules under the provisions of the Monetary Law Act to reinforce the prevailing repatriation requirement on proceeds of merchandise exports and ensure the conversion of a given share of such proceeds within a specific period of time.

These Rules that had been based on similar rules of neighbouring countries, had been fine-tuned from time to time upon requests made by the business community, while those have also helped to ease foreign exchange liquidity issues faced by the domestic market to some extent, with a gradual improvement in repatriation and conversion of export proceeds.

In addition, with mandatory sales of export proceeds converted under the aforesaid Rules by licensed banks, the CBSL has been able to purchase a reasonable quantum of forex from the market thus far during the year, which the CBSL has utilised to part-finance the import of essential commodities to the country during the past few weeks.

Under the new Rules issued on 28 October 2021, the minimum mandatory conversion rate of 25 percent has been relaxed, and instead, exporters have provided with the opportunity to utilise export proceeds for:

a) outward remittances in respect of current transactions;

b) withdrawal in foreign currency notes, as permitted;

c) debt servicing expenses and repayment of foreign currency loans;

d) purchases of goods and obtaining services including one-month commitments; and

e) payments in respect of making investments in Sri Lanka Development Bonds (SLDBs) in foreign currency up to ten per cent of the export proceeds, so received.

The residual after the utilisation of export proceeds as above will have to be converted into Sri Lanka Rupees. This method, followed by several other countries, ensures that exports with a large import content are not penalised, while enabling exports with a higher domestic value addition to convert a greater percentage of proceeds, after meeting foreign currency financial obligations of such enterprises.

In addition, considering the importance of the growing services export sector and the concessions provided to such sectors over time to expand their activities by the Government, the Rules have been extended to services exports as well.

This coverage has been defined in the Rules as payments received in foreign exchange by a person resident in Sri Lanka for services (including professional, vocational, occupational, or business services) provided to a person resident outside Sri Lanka. Accordingly, remittances by Sri Lankan expatriates, which are not considered as services exports, will not be subjected to these Rules.

The implementation of the new Rules, which treat merchandise exports and services exports equally, is expected to provide greater foreign currency liquidity to the domestic market, ensuring the availability of foreign exchange for essential payments at a reasonable exchange rate by Sri Lankans, including the purchase of imported goods, overseas education, foreign travel and health expenses, etc.

In addition, the Rules will enable the identification of the true “value addition” of each export sector of the economy, through the different ratios of conversion as reported by banks.

Exporters enjoy various tax concessions and other advantages provided by the Government in recognition of the net foreign exchange inflow to the country through their operations, and in consideration of the benefits accruing to the country when such proceeds are converted into Sri Lanka Rupees.

Realisation of these anticipated outcomes will therefore enable the Government to continue the provision of concessions to such sectors.

Full repatriation of foreign exchange earnings and improved conversion will also help ensure the stability of the exchange rate and support the stability of the macro-economy and the financial system.

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Sri Lanka undershoots inflation target in first quarter despite VAT hike

Sri Lanka undershoots inflation target in first quarter despite VAT hike

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s inflation is expected to lower than initially projected in 2024, despite a value added tax hike, Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe has said

“When we looked at the last two monetary policy reviews… we had an inflation path a little elevated to what was realized, ” he told reporters following a March 50 basis point rate cut.

“Mainly because our projection factored in the VAT increase in January and some of the short-term food price increases, we have seen in December and January.

But what we have seen the actual inflation realization, is that the impact of VAT has not been that much and also the reduction in electricity prices also has helped, as well as the supply conditions, especially food supplies has been better.

“As a result, inflation outcome has been much lower than we expected.”

Sri Lanka’s central bank has been conducting broadly deflationary policy, except perhaps in December 2024, when a private credit spike appears to have been accommodated by standing facilities on top a seasonal real demand for cash.

The central bank has also allowed the currency to re-appreciate departing inflationist policy generally seen since 1978, analysts say.

“In our projections, we see in the next 12 to 18 months, inflation will remain well below our target range between 4-6. In our expectation it will remain around 4-5 percent in the next 12 to 18 months.

“That is one of the reasons we saw we had some pace to reduce our policy rate.”

The central bank cut its policy corridor 50 basis points to 8.50 and 9.50 percent, and has allowed excess liquidity to build up in money markets from a balance of payments deficit (net dollar purchases) at the current market interest rate structure.

Though money is being injected through various tools allowing some banks to trade without deposits, overall, there is a sell down of its domestic securities holdings.

Sri Lanka has a reserve collecting central bank currently subject to IMF forex reserve targets and domestic asset sell down target (which are essentially complementary), an inflation target of up to 7 percent and an implicit potential output (printing money for growth) target.

The central bank currently providing exceptionally monetary stability not for many years, and cautiously lowering rates, as well as reversing some of the inflation it has created in the past in food prices and energy.

Since September 2022, when deflationary policy started to show up in the balance of payments, the central bank has only created 3.9 percent inflation according to the widely watched Colombo Consumer Price Index.

However, analysts have warned that in the past, deeply flawed operational frameworks involving multiple and contradictory anchors have tended to trip up when private credit recovered when rates are cut claiming inflation is low.

Sri Lanka also does not have a penalty rate for standing facilities, unlike countries with tighter operational frameworks, which are less prone to crises. (Colombo/Apr14/2024)

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Sri Lanka eyes on speedy debt resolution at IMF/WB Spring Meetings: State Finmin

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is looking forward to have discussions for a speedy debt resolution and restore debt sustainability at the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) starting on Monday (15) in Washington, State Finance Minister Shehan Semasinghe said.

Minister Semasinghe is leading the Sri Lankas delegation for this year’s IMF/WB Spring Meetings that includes Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe and Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwardana.

The island nation expects to conclude the debt restructuring negotiation with its private creditors and sovereign bond holders and formalize the already agreed deal with bilateral creditors by end of the first half of this year, government sources have told EconomyNext.

Sri Lanka also expects to receive the third tranche of the IMF by mid this year after the completion of the second review of a $3 billion loan program last month.

“We expect fruitful engagements that will pave the way for unlocking the next tranche of essential funding and a speedy debt resolution which will enhance economic stability, confidence, sustainable growth, restore debt sustainability and ultimately, improving the welfare of every Sri Lankan citizen,” the Minister said in his X (Twitter) platform.

“Sri Lanka’s journey to its current state of stability and progress is due to the invaluable support provided by the IMF, World Bank and international partners during the most severe economic crisis we faced since 2022. “

“As we navigate the complexities of global economic challenges, we will engage closely with the IMF and aim to contribute to broader international economic cooperation with our partners.”

“Through dialogue, partnership, and concerted efforts, we are confident that we will achieve brighter economic future for Sri Lanka,” Semasinghe said.

The Monday’s Spring Meetings come as President Ranil Wickremesinghe government is facing a presidential election after long delayed local government and provincial polls.

Some government officials have said there could be likely slippages in the IMF targets during the election period as majority of Sri Lankans feel their struggling has risen due the implementation of IMF conditions including increased taxes.

The government has already started to relax some of the tough conditions it has maintained to boost the state revenue amid an increase in the tax revenue.

However, President Wickremesinghe has vowed to continue the IMF-led reforms as they are citing they are the only solution to come out of the current unprecedented economic crisis. (Colombo/April 14/2024)

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LGBTQIA+ Rights: Europe and South Asia See Similar Discriminatory Practices

ECONOMYNEXT – The rights and protections of the LGBTQIA+ community have been fraught with challenges and continue to be so, despite the many gains achieved in recent years.

Nor are those handful of rights universally applied, a recent discussion which looked at the European and South Asian perspectives on same-sex rights and unions revealed. Most developed nations have introduced protections for those identifying as LGBTQIA+, and a view from a distant lens paints a picture of tolerance. Yet, a closer look at the European arena throws up the many gaps that are evident in the application of the law.

In the so-called conservative South Asian nations, changes to legislation are slow to be implemented. That may come as a surprise, for, contrary to popular belief, same-sex relationships were culturally acceptable in the South Asian region and is not a Western concept points out Ruhaan Joshi, a Public Policy Practitioner from India.

Society’s view on same-sex relationships dimmed with the imposition of Western values and the criminalisation of such relationships with the advent of colonial rule.

While the LGBTQIA+ communities in South Asian countries currently battle to have same-sex relationships decriminalised and their unions legally accepted, the irony is that countries that first made such relationships punishable by law have moved on to be more welcoming, though some discriminatory practices continue.

Joshi was part of a discussion themed ‘On Being Queer and LGBTQIA+ in South Asia and Europe, held in Germany on April 9 this year. The discussion which included the release of two papers which examined the rights and protections of the LGBTQIA+ community in Europe and South Asia, respectively, was organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

Joining Joshi in the discussion were lawyer and parliamentarian Premnath C Dolawatte from Sri Lanka, Milosz Hodun, President, Projekt Polska Foundation, Poland, Michael Kauch, a Member of the European Parliament and RENEW Europe Group and Inaya Zarakhel, a Dutch-Pakistani actress and an activist on Queer Rights, who moderated the discussion. The two papers were presented by Hodun and Joshi, respectively.

In his opening remarks, Kauch pointed out that while the view of the liberals is that the rights recognized in one member nation of the EU must be accepted by all member countries, that is not the ground reality, the issue of Rainbow families being a case in point.

In the context of the European Union, though the Court of Justice has ruled on the freedom of movement of those in same-sex partnerships and their families, the ruling is not universally applied by member nations.

In Italy, and some European nations, surrogacy which helps childless couples to become parents is illegal. In other situations where same-sex parents are of different nationalities a child in that union faces restriction of movement or the possibility of being stateless if one parent hails from a country where such parental rights are not recognised.

Hodun meanwhile stated that in Poland transgender persons must first sue their parents for the gender assigned to them at birth, to have their gender marker changed on documents.

Some countries such as Russia and Azerbaijan resort to State-sponsored homophobia, and in many instances politicians and political parties promote such biases to boost their voter base it was pointed out. Even where laws are in place for the protection of LGBTQIA+ rights, there is no political will to implement them.

In Europe where migrants arrive in droves seeking asylum, and are frowned upon by many of those countries, LGBTQIA+ members face even more discrimination Hodun says, both by other refugees and governments, where most often the state ignores the situation despite the guidelines issued by the UN and the European Court of Justice. Hate speech and hate crimes too are on the rise he adds stating that at least 80 per cent go unreported.

Increasingly the LGBTQIA+ community has experienced a diminishing of their safe spaces as right-wing and populist governments are elected across the globe. Taking a dig at feminism, meanwhile, Kauch states that though feminists uphold a woman’s right to opt for an abortion, they take a different approach on the topic of surrogacy.

Dolawatte who waded into unchartered waters when he presented a Private Member’s Bill to decriminalise same-sex relationships through an amendment to section 365 of the Penal Code and the repealing of section 365A in its totality, is hopeful that the Bill will pass its third reading. It’s been an uphill battle he says, referring to the case filed in the Supreme Court against the Bill. The court ruled in his favour.

He had little or no support from his own party members, but says the President of the country, and younger party members are with him on this issue. Apart from making Sri Lanka a safe space, it would encourage foreign nationals identifying as LGBTQIA+ to visit without fear, and thus boost tourism he opines.

As Joshi states society has come a long way from when LGBTQIA+ were made fun of and were subject to violence to the positive portrayal in movies. Such movies are also well-received by society. Transgender identity has a distinct recognition in South Asian religious beliefs. Hijra, Khwaja Sara or Kinnar are some names given to transgender folk and they have, since ancient times been an accepted group in society. On the one hand, there’s Afghanistan and the Maldives which make no allowances for the LGBTQIA+ community, while Nepal became the first South Asian nation in 2023, to register a same-sex marriage, Joshi states. In most South Asian nations, the courts have ruled in favour of relaxing the rules against this community, and, like in Europe, it is the governments that drag their feet.

For governments to change their stance, society must take the lead in fighting for the unconditional dignity of the individual, freedom of movement, and safeguarding the tenets of democracy, he says adding that it must also run parallel with the LGBTQIA+ community looking beyond themselves at issues that impact democratic values, and the societal restrictions non-LGBTIQIA+ groups face, such as opposition to inter-caste marriage and the right to adopt outside their caste systems and equal access to many other privileges.

While the panellists advocated working together across the global divide as a step towards achieving equal rights for all, Dolawatte also called for caution; too much pressure on such issues from Europe he said may not be welcome, and must be handled with care.

With right-wing and populist governments getting elected across the globe, Kauch claims the forthcoming EU elections will prove crucial in deciding how future and current governments ensure tolerance and diversity amongst their citizenry.

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