Tuesday, December 5, 2023

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Kamil Kuthubdeen: Embracing Sri Lanka’s Economic Revival

Colombo (LNW): Amidst the challenges of rising interest rates and diminishing export demand that have dampened the post-COVID economic recovery across several Asian nations, Sri Lanka stands uniquely poised. As the sole country in the region to have grappled with a default on its official debt amidst the dual strains of the pandemic and the Ukraine conflict, Sri Lanka now finds itself basking in a brighter economic landscape. These days signal a newfound period of growth for Sri Lanka’s economy, setting it apart from its regional counterparts.

Sri Lanka’s economic landscape is experiencing a remarkable revival as its tourism revenue and remittances from overseas workers make a triumphant return. Overcoming a daunting inflation rate that soared to 70% September 2022, the nation has seen a remarkable drop in inflation to 6.3% by July this year. This impressive feat prompted the Central Bank of Sri Lanka to implement a 4.5 percentage point reduction in its benchmark interest rate since June.

The challenges of yesteryears, including the aftermath of the 2019 Easter Sunday incident that caused a dip in tourism earnings, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, have been overcome. Notable factors such as heavy external borrowing, unwarranted tax cuts, and internal political discord have collectively impacted investor sentiment and the nation’s macroeconomic stability.

The seismic tremors of the Ukraine war in the preceding year reverberated globally, dealing a crushing blow to Sri Lanka’s economy. Depleted foreign reserves coupled with surging costs of vital imports pushed the nation to a critical juncture. International capital markets remained elusive due to waning faith in repayment capacity amid escalating global interest rates.

In an economic cascade, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka resorted to printing money to bridge governmental deficits, triggering a harrowing freefall of the Sri Lankan rupee and an inflationary upsurge. As daily essentials became scarce and prices soared, a crescendo of public discontent destabilized the administration, culminating in the departure of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July 2022. Amidst this tempest, the fabric of Sri Lanka’s GDP and economic stability frayed.

“In assuming leadership after Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe swiftly embarked on a strategic path to restore equilibrium to Sri Lanka’s economy. By initiating constructive dialogues with the International Monetary Fund for financial assistance and garnering interim backing from neighboring nations like India, he displayed adept crisis management. In a bid to secure the IMF’s endorsement, the administration undertook bold yet indispensable measures, encompassing hikes in fuel and electricity prices, tax rate adjustments, and tax base expansion,” Kamil Kuthubdeen Chairman of Global Business Trust LLC Dubai said.

“Notably, under the stewardship of a new central bank governor, a resolute tightening of benchmark interest rates by an impressive 8 percentage points throughout 2022 was undertaken, aimed at tempering inflationary pressures and ushering in a measure of macroeconomic stability, ultimately contributing to the revitalization of Sri Lanka’s GDP trajectory,” Kamil Kuthubdeen added.

The year’s outset witnessed an impressive upswing with tourism revenue nearing $1 billion and remittances soaring to $3 billion, benchmarks projected to hold strong in the latter half. While these figures still fall shy of pre-COVID levels, the nation’s trajectory back to its $4.4 billion tourism revenue and $7 billion remittance glory days appears attainable, vital for managing the current-account deficit and fostering macroeconomic stability and expansion.

In the wake of Sri Lanka’s economic resurgence, endorsed by the IMF’s pivotal support granted in March, projections indicate that the nation’s current-account deficit will stabilize at an approximately 1.5% of GDP from this juncture onward. This judicious ratio, particularly pertinent for emerging economies reliant on fuel and food imports, underscores the sustainable trajectory.

The successful domestic debt restructuring initiative executed by the government has effectively mitigated uncertainties, notably within the domestic banking landscape. Concurrently, discussions with external creditors to restructure external debt exemplify Colombo’s proactive stance. The reform momentum persists as the government kickstarts the privatization of key state-owned assets, including SriLankan Airlines and Sri Lanka Telecom.

Evidencing this positive turn, the rupee and the national stock market have emerged as global leaders in response to recent macroeconomic shifts, encapsulating a remarkable transformation on multiple fronts.With resilience in the face of escalating odds, Sri Lanka has steered its economy towards revival. As inflation recedes and interest rates follow suit, the resurgence of tourism breathes fresh life into the nation’s economic pulse.

The government’s unwavering commitment to reform sets a promising trajectory. Beyond the horizon, a potential reduction in benchmark interest rates could fuel the ongoing recovery, while strategic investment in tourism and logistics promises to fortify foreign exchange reserves. Amid historic hurdles, the stage is set for Sri Lanka to orchestrate a symphony of enduring prosperity with the support of global allies and astute policymaking.

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