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Sunday March 26th, 2023

Sri Lanka Prime Minister briefs FAO, UNDP on looming food shortage 

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday (03) briefed the representatives of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) over possible food shortage and the plans to overcome the production gap, the prime minister’s office said.

The meetings come as the island nation’s agricultural experts have warned of a possible shortage of rice and other essential foods possibly in September because of lower production due to the impacts of chemical fertilizer ban last year and inability to import amid dollar shortage.

Wickremesinghe has already warned of an acute food shortage by August and said the island nation would require $600 million to import fertilizer amid Sri Lanka’s near zero foreign currency reserves. Crop scientists have warned that Sri Lanka could produce enough rice only for seven months of this year due to the fertilizer ban. Before the fertilizer ban, Sri Lanka had self sufficiency in rice production.

Wickremesinghe met Vimlendra Sharan, the Country Representative of the FAO and Malin Herwig, the Deputy Country Representative of UNDP on Friday.

“The Prime Minister explained that in view of the threat of a food shortage, a food security program was being compiled by the agriculture department officials. This program is due to be unveiled next month, with the UNDP expressing their support for the initiative,” Wickremesinghe’s office said in a statement.

“He (Wickremesinghe) stated that the biggest issue currently facing the agriculture sector is the fertiliser and fuel shortage. The Prime Minister also elaborated on the urban agriculture initiative that he had established to try and overcome a potential food shortage.”

Sri Lanka is unable to import fertilizer although President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has cancelled his detrimental fertilizer ban policy because it does not have dollars and sharp increase in fertilizer prices globally.

Sri Lanka produces no nitrogen fertilizer. Rajapaksa banned chemical fertilizer and requested farmers to go for only organic fertilizer. Paddy harvest has seen a decline of around 40 percent in the last two cultivation seasons, crop scientists have said.

The prime minister’s office said the UNDP explained that they were compiling an innovative farming assistance program which would help the farming community overcome the fertiliser shortage.

“The FAO also explained that donors had stepped forward to assist the country in the urban agriculture program, and was hopeful that a successful implementation would see more financial support provided,” it said in the statement.

“The FAO also stated they were drafting a food crisis response plan that can be enacted in Sri Lanka.”

“The Prime Minister explained that within 5-6 months the current agriculture shortages could be salvaged if swift action was taken to address the shortages faced by the farmers.” (Colombo/June 03/2022)

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Sri Lanka seeks to settle India ACU debt, credit lines over 5-years

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has requested India to settle payments due to the country under the Asian Clearing Union mechanism and credit lines given in 2022 over 5 years, Indrajit Coomaraswamy, an advisor the island’s government said.

Sri Lanka is negotiating with India to settle the money over a 5-year period, Coomaraswamy, a former central bank governor told an online forum hosted by the Central Bank.

“Our request from the Indians is to settle it over five years,” he said. “That I think is still in the early stages of negotiation. The same with the one billion line of credit.”

Sri Lanka’s central bank owed the ACU 2.0 billion US dollars to the Asian Clearing Union according to a year end debt statement, issued by the Finance Ministry.

Sri Lanka owned India, 1,621 million dollars according to ACU data by year end, excluding interest.

India has given a 1 billion US dollar credit line to Sri Lanka as well a credit line for petroleum.

Sri Lanka in March 2024 has paid 121 million US dollar out of a 331 million US dollar IMF tranche to settle an Indian credit line.

Indian credits were given after the country defaulted in April 2022 as budget support/import when most other bilateral lenders halted giving money. (Colombo/Mar26/2023)

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Sri Lanka coconut auction prices up 1.16-pct

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka’s coconut auction prices went up by 1.16 percent from a week ago at an auction on Thursday, data showed.

The average price for 1,000 nuts grew to 83,219.45 from 82,260.58 a week earlier at the weekly auction conducted by Sri Lanka’s Coconut Development Authority on March 23.

The highest price was 92,500 rupees for 1,000 nuts up from the previous week’s 90,600 rupees, while the lowest was 76,500 also up from 70,000 rupees.

The auction offered 900,010 coconuts and 583,291 nuts were sold. (Colombo/Mar 26/2023)

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Sri Lanka in talks for billion dollar equivalent Indian rupee swap

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is in talks with India for a billion US dollar equivalent Indian rupee central bank swap, to facilitate trade, Indrajit Coomaraswamy, ad advisor to the government said.

“The amount is still uncertain it could be up to the equivalent of a billion US dollars,” Coomaraswamy told an online forum hosted by Sri Lanka’s central bank.

The money will be used to facilate India Sri Lanka trade, he said.

India has been trying to popularize the use of Indian rupees for external trade and also encouraged Sri Lanka banks to set up Indian rupee VOSTRO accounts.

However the first step in popularizing a currency for external trade is to get domestic agents, especially exporters, to accept their own currency for trade, like in the case of the US or EU, analysts say.

India’s billion US dollar credit to Sri Lanka given during the 2022 crisis is settled in Indian rupees (transaction need).

However the Indian government itself has chosen to denominate it in US currency for debt purposes (future value).

In most South Asian nations, receivers of remittances are willing to accept domestic currencies, leading to active VOSTRO account transactions.

Sri Lanka is expected to repay a 400 million US dollar swap with the Reserve Bank of India next year under an International Monetary Fund backed program for external stability and debt re-structuring.

Central bank swap proceeds sold to banks, which are then sterilized with inflationary open market operations, can trigger forex shortages and currency crises, analysts warn.

Sri Lanka went to the International Monetary Fund after two years of inflationary monetary operations by the central bank’s issue department (money printed to suppress interest rates) triggered the biggest currency crisis in its history and external sovereign default.

Sri Lanka had gone to the IMF 16 times with similar external troubles except for the April 2003 extended fund facility under Central Bank Governor A S Jayewardene which was a purely reform-oriented program with the World Bank (PRGF/PRSP) program at a time when he was collecting reserves with deflationary monetary policy and perhaps the lowest inflation since the Bretton Woods collapsed. (Colombo/Mar26/2023)

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