Having weathered a challenging period marked by a deep economic crisis, Sri Lanka is now demonstrating positive signs of an economic upturn. Still, amidst limited homefront policy alternatives against an unfavourable global backdrop, a critical question arises: how will Sri Lanka’s external sector cope in the face of these challenges?
Notably, import controls, initially imposed in response to the dearth of foreign exchange liquidity in the domestic market, are being largely eased. The government is actively seeking to forge partnerships with regional giants, aiming to strengthen trade relations through Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). Nevertheless, in the broader global context, the rise of geopolitical rivalries, slow growth and contracting demand in key markets create multiple uncertainties for Sri Lanka’s external sector recovery.
In response to the economic crisis, Sri Lanka implemented import controls that expanded significantly by the end of 2022, accounting for approximately 30% of the country’s total import value. But were they necessary or the easiest option? Were they applied optimally to limit damage on growth? Did they distort incentives, thereby promoting domestic production of substitutable products? To shed light on these questions, a comprehensive analysis was conducted using eight waves of import controls. The government’s objectives varied, ranging from curbing currency outflows to promoting domestic production as import substitutes. It is crucial to assess the long-term impact on incentive structures. In this blog, the authors delve into the complexities of Sri Lanka’s import controls, providing insights into their necessity, optimal application, and unintended consequences.
In 2019, only 6% of tea imported by Thailand was from Sri Lanka. This low percentage can be attributed to the difference in preferences and Thailand’s high tariffs of 90% on imported tea, which act as barriers to Sri Lanka’s tea exports. Additionally, Thailand imposes up to 30% tariffs on nearly 120 product lines of wearing apparel. These high tariffs for products with a comparative advantage are not exclusive to Sri Lanka. Thailand also faces higher tariffs for vehicles, rubber, and light-electronics exports which Thailand exports competitively. This tariff structure hampers the bilateral trade of products with a higher comparative advantage for both countries. Despite these challenges, Sri Lanka and Thailand have expedited the process of signing a free trade agreement (FTA) to boost bilateral trade by threefold to USD 1.5 billion. This article discusses the trade effect of an FTA and a way forward to maximise the gains from an FTA.
The Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) held a seminar on 25 October 2022 to coincide with the release of the Institute’s annual flagship report, Sri Lanka: State of the Economy 2022, on the theme Driving Policy Action from Crisis to Recovery. Dr Nandalal Weerasinghe, Governor, Central Bank of Sri Lanka and Mr K M Mahinda Siriwardana, Secretary to the Treasury/Ministry of Finance, Economic Stabilisation and National Policies, delivered the keynote addresses. Dr Dushni Weerakoon, Executive Director, IPS, made a presentation to mark the release of the Sri Lanka: State of the Economy 2022 report. Mr R H W A Kumarasiri, Director-General, Department of National Planning and Mr E A Rathnaseela, Addl. Director-General, Department of National Planning chaired/moderated a session on ‘Policy Action for Shared Sustainable Growth: A National Policy Framework’. Under this theme, senior IPS researchers Dr Nisha Arunatilake, Director of Research, Dr Ganga Tilakaratna, Research Fellow and Dr Manoj Thibbotuwawa, Research Fellow, made presentations.
Food security has become a pressing concern for many Sri Lankans amidst a deepening domestic economic crisis, drastic loss of rice production, and post-Ukraine crisis commodity price surge in the world market. International organisations have started humanitarian programmes targeting the country’s most vulnerable citizens, while policymakers are pushing for increased domestic food production. Meanwhile, Sri Lankan households are bracing for a looming food crisis. Google search data shows a renewed interest in food security and home gardening-related search terms by Sri Lankans. Against this backdrop, this article assesses the role of imports and trade policy in safeguarding the food security of Sri Lanka.