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Sri Lanka tightens foreign exchange controls amid worst GDP decline

Published: Updated:

Sri Lanka on Monday ordered tight foreign exchange controls after announcing a 3.9 percent contraction in the economy that accentuated concerns over its ability to repay foreign debt.

Central Bank of Sri Lanka Governor W.D. Lakshman said the coronavirus pandemic caused a record fall in the tourism and trade-dependent economy last year as he announced the figure.

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He said the central bank will keep lending rates below 10 percent to help revive the battered economy but there will be tighter controls on imports.

A ban on non-essential imports, including all types of vehicles, imposed in March has already been extended through 2021 and Lakshman suggested there could be more controls.

“For the sustainability of the low interest rate structure, it is essential that foreign exchange leakages for non-essential imports and outward investment are minimized,” he said without giving details.

The central bank chief insisted however that Colombo will honor its foreign debt obligations amounting to about $4.0 billion a year.

International rating agencies have slashed Sri Lanka’s credit worthiness after raising fears over the island’s ability to repay its debt.

Sri Lanka’s economy has steadily grown in recent decades with the exception of 2001 when there was a 1.4 percent GDP contraction after Tamil separatists bombed the country’s main airport and crippled tourism.

The record decline in 2020 follows a setback after the 2019 Easter Sunday jihadist bombings which killed 279 people at three hotels and three churches.

Sri Lanka was emerging from the devastating attacks when the coronavirus pandemic halted international travel in March.

The island is battling a new wave of infections with the number of cases increasing to more than 44,000 from 3,300 in October.

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