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Tuesday May 30th, 2023

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 rupee at 296.75/297.25 to dollar at open, bond yields steady

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee opened at 297 /297.50 against the US dollar in the spot market on Monday, while bond yields were steady, dealers said.

The rupee closed at 296.75 /297.25 to the US dollar on Monday after opening around 296.50 /297.50 rupees.

A bond maturing on 01.09.2027 was quoted at 26.50/75 percent steady from Friday’s close at 26.50/65 percent.

Sri Lanka’s rupee is appreciating amid negative private credit which has reduced outflows after the central bank hiked rates and stopped printing money. (Colombo/ May 29/2023)

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Sri Lanka rupee appreciation squeezes exporters

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s recent appreciation is starting to squeeze apparel exporters as their domestic costs including wages and energy, were hiked over recent months, when the rupee fell steeply, an industry official said.

Companies had raised salaries and emoluments at rates averaging 25 percent for workers while transport costs have also gone up but not has come down, Yohan Lawrence Director General of the Join Apparel Association Forum said.

Apparel factories in particular also provide transport and some meals for workers.

Electricity prices have also been hiked, based on the rupee which was weaker. A tariff cut is expected from June after the rupee appreciated and imported fuel prices fell.

Sri Lanka’s rupee collapsed in 2022 from 200 to 360 to the US dollar as interest rates were suppressed with liquidity injections and a failed attempt was made to float the rupee with surrender requirement in place.

From the second half of 2022, with higher interest rates and negative private credit, the central bank has avoided printing money under conditions which are generally accepted to be difficult, and is broadly running deflationary open market operations, triggering a balance of payments surplus and putting the rupee under upward pressure.

Central bank net credit to government which was 3,302 billion rupees in September in 2022, was down to 3,209 billion rupees by March 2023, part of which was due to rollovers, analysts say.

Market pricing of fuel and electricity by the Ministry of Energy and also spending controls and tax hikes buy have also helped contain domestic credit.

Sri Lanka also has mandatory conversion rules, imposed on exporters, which is a concern for exporters.

“We believe rupee should be at its natural level, but with forced conversions you won’t get the correct picture,” Lawrence said.

Sri Lanka has to release a plan to remove import controls, exchange controls and other restrictions imposed in the period where policy rates were suppressed with liquidity injections (so-called multiple currency practices and capital flow measures) by June under the IMF program.

Apparel exporters have also seen orders fall amid tighter conditions in Western markets.

The central bank has to peg (intervene actively in forex markets and create money) to meet reserve targets under an IMF program and cannot free float (avoid creating money through international operations) the rupee.

The newly created money has generally been absorbed in an overnight liquidity shortage.

There have also been foreign purchases of rupee Treasuries. Amid a contraction in credit, the inflows also do not turn into imports fast as the money if the money is spent.

By making purchases a little below what is allowed by the contraction in domestic credit, the rupee can be allowed to appreciate, analysts say.

The central bank has so far allowed the rupee to appreciate to around 300 to the US dollar from 360 levels under a transparent guidance peg up to February.

Except after the 2008/2009 currency crisis, Sri Lanka’s central bank has not previously allowed to the rupee to appreciate under IMF programs where the first year in particular sees balance of payments surpluses, before private credit and domestic investments picks up again.

One of the considerations used by third world central banks are Real Effective Exchange Rate indices.

The REER of the Sri Lanka rupee based on a basket of currencies calculated by the central bank was 61.12 points in February before the rupee was allowed to appreciate by lifting a surrender rule.

In March the index went up to 69.55 points, but remained steeply below 100. Real effective exchange rates are calculated also taking into account inflation in counterpart trading nations.

Sri Lanka’s inflation index had hardly risen since September amid rupee gains. Falling food prices can help contain pressure for further wage hikes, analysts say. (Colombo/May30/2023)

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Sri Lanka forum to discuss central bank independence vs sound money

ECONOMYNEXT – Central bank independence and sound money will be under discussion at a public event organized by the Sri Lanka chapter of the Bastiat Society today, May 30, as island is recovering from the worst episode of monetary instability since independence.

The forum will feature Lawrence H White, Professor of Economics at George Mason University in the US, and W A Wijewardene, former Deputy Central Bank Governor, of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

“The discussion will compare the current system against alternative systems and explore the relationship between such banking systems and sound money,” the organizers said.

White specializes in the theory and history of banking and money. He is the author of “The Clash of Economic Ideas” (2012), “The Theory of Monetary Institutions” (1999), “Free Banking in Britain” (2nd ed., 1995), and “Competition and Currency” (1989).

Wijewardene has been speaking on central bank independence in Sri Lanka long before it became a topic of wider discussion, but also on accountability.

In April, a Central Bank Independence and Other Matters, which includes a collection of his orations on the subject over the years as well a recent development was published.

The discussion comes as independent central banks in the West have created the worst inflation since the 1970s and early 1980s and are apparently unaccountable to parliaments and the public.

The early 1980s also saw the first wave of external debt crises in so-called soft-pegged countries in Latin America and Eastern Europe in particular as the US and UK tightened policy to end the Great Inflation.

The discussion will be held at 7.00 pm at the Lakmahal Community Library and those interested can register online, the organizers said. (Colombo/May30/2023)

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