Sri Lanka in a Transforming South Asian Economic Landscape (Data as at 2018)0 572
India remains the Global leader and among the fastest growing economies of the world with a population of 1,316 Mn and USD 2,689 Mn.
Bangladesh with 162 Mn people with a GDP of USD 286 Bn has also sustained high economic growth in recent times.
Pakistan With a population of 199 Mn people and economy of USD 306.0 Bn GDP has slowed down its growth momentum, but remains a potentially important player in the region.
Nepal with a population of 29 Mn and an economy of USD 28 Bn sustains 6 percent growth in GDP in its transition to a lower middle income country.
Bhutan and Maldives with smaller in terms of population as well as GDP sustain near 7 percent growth in their respective GDP. Maldives commands the highest per capita income status in South Asia while Bhutan commands one of the happiest country in the world,
Sri Lanka with 21 Mn people and a GDP of USD 92 Bn have lost its growth momentum and its development drive in recent years although it is still commanding the highest per capita income of around USD 4,000 in South Asia next only to Maldives.
Afghanistan with 30 Mn population remains as one of the poorest economies in the world with 2.5 percent growth in GDP and South Asia.
BiZnomics Research Team, being a body of professional Economic and business researches, felt it opportune to discuss national economic conditions including the country’s total debt stock (domestic and foreign borrowings), and the revenue-generating solutions including Hambantota port as an asset in stimulating economic growth takes the opportunity to speak to Dr. Kenneth De Zilwa, a business Cycle Analyst who has over 17 years of experience at all functional levels in senior management positions at banking and a senior consultant at the China Harbor Engineering as the subjects are very current and relevant to the ongoing discussions on the objective making the general public aware.
What is Sri Lanka’s economic condition?
To answer this we need to understand the models of development used by the two governments. Sri Lanka has witnessed two economic models in the past 10 years, namely, investment driven, local supply based and local enterprise driven economic model of 2010-2014 and a more liberal, external supply based consumption model ushered during 2015 to 2019. The resultant outcomes of these two are now in the public domain and could be compared and contrasted. In the 2010-2014 period the average GDP growth rate, which is the approximation used to indicate overall expansion of the country’s production, was at 6.78pct. The average growth rate in 2015-2019 was 3.70pct; indicating a 45pct decline from the earlier period. This implied a significant slowdown of real economic activity in the country. To put this in context we have to understand that the 2010-2014 growth was achieved despite the many global shocks, namely, we witnessed the food crisis, the second great depression of 2008 (second since the Grest Depression of the 1930s) which saw the global financial system collapse and the global oil crisis. In contrast, in the past 5 years we had not witnessed any external shocks, apart from the depreciation of the Turkish Lira and its aberrations on global markets.
Similarly, we find price volatility in interest rates and exchange rates. The commodity volatility had been passed on to the real economy, making input cost of production and consumables more expensive despite the dramatic fall in global crude oil prices. In fact it was observed by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka that the rupee depreciation by 18pct in 2018 viz a viz the US Dollar brought about a LKR 1,000 billion loss to the economy during 2014 to 2019 i.e. while during the last 5 year period, the total depreciation cost to the country was LKR 1,780.0 billion incremental debt servicing cost to the country. The erratic behavior of markets can thus be costly for the development agenda. Therefore we can argue that the free markets based model adopted in 2015-2019 was
not conducive for the real sector development and economic growth. Going forward we envisage that a new business model will be introduced for Sri Lanka to kick start the economy with an emphasis on properly aligned macroeconomic policies which will stimulate local Agro-Industrialization and unleash the entrepreneurial activity across multiple sectors. This will lift the GDP growth rate to well above its historic average of 4.75pct.
How much is Sri Lanka in debt and what is the solution for this?
Sri Lanka debt has been a talking point since 2014 and the reason for that was the rapid development that was undertaken during the 4-year period after the war. This clearly brought about an increase in the national debt stock. The country’s total debt stock (domestic and foreign borrowings) increased from LKR 4,590 million to LKR 7,390 million with significant amounts of funds utilized in the creation of balance revenue asset and capacity building, for the country needed to be integrated and the journey towards industrialization undertaken . Many of such capital intensive projects have a long term payback period and the cash flow from such projects was gradually building up, with less stress on the fiscal front of government business. In 2015 however, the new government moved away from adding capital assets to the country’s economy and was focused on shifting economic policy towards less state led investment capital. They therefore, commenced disposing of already created assets via long term lease agreements to various foreign countries. Hambantota port is a classic example where the port’s revenue-generating business venture was leased back to the construction company at the cost of construction and not based on the discounted future cash flow method. The argument was that asset disposing was necessary given the country’s debt burden.
Similarly, we find price volatility in interest rates and exchange rates. The commodity volatility had been passed on to the real economy, making input cost of production and consumables more expensive despite the dramatic fall in global crude oil prices. In fact it was observed by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka that the rupee depreciation by 18pct in 2018 viz a viz the US Dollar brought about a LKR 1,000 billion loss to the economy. In fact during 2010-14 i.e.last 5 year period, the total depreciation cost to the country was LKR 1,780.0 billion adding to the incremental debt servicing cost and debt stock of the country.
Love and Compassion, was the response to Sri Lankans on the Easter Sunday attacks in several churches in Sri Lanka where people gathered to celebrate the risen Christ through worship and praise during holy mass.
The Arch Bishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith condemned the Easter Sunday attacks as an insult to humanity and urged people to show kindness, restraint, love and mercy to others as a sign of respect for all the victims. In conducting his mass with an appeal to peace and unity he said that he will pray for this country so that there will be peace and co-existence and understanding each other without division.
“We are not fully aware as to who is actually behind this. Just like the tip of the iceberg, we do not know the whole picture. There might be a more powerful group behind this unfortunate group of youth. Maybe those involved might not belong to the said nationality. Therefore we must not make this an opportunity to harass or assault anyone. If any wrong was committed by anyone, such individuals should be brought before the law. The law must be enforced”.
Sanctions on Oil Supply
The US government announced that it would end waivers granted to several countries including China, India, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and several other nations to import Iranian oil. This move could alter the outlook for trade flows, access to financial markets and currency movements.
The US administration introduced sanctions on Iranian oil last year. The expiry of concessions on May 2nd could reduce the global supply of oil. Asian economies led by India and China are most affected as Asian consumption accounts for more than 35 percent of global demand. China and Turkey have opposed the imposition of unilateral sanctions. Oil supply concerns are also affected by US sanctions on Venezuela.
Oil prices continued their upward trend approaching the Brent crude price towards USD 75 per barrel in the last week of April 2019 – the highest in six months
Elections in Two Large Emerging Economies
On April 17th nearly 192 million Indonesians went to cast their election vote. For the first time, the Presidential, and the People’s Consultative Assembly (i.e. Parliament) and regional elections were held on the same day. Official elections results are expected by 22nd May. Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim country is projected to become the fourth largest economy by 2030 with a GDP of USD 10 trillion. Experts predict that it will be three times the size of the Australian economy by that time.
Additionally, from April 11th to May 19th about 900 million voters in India are expected to cast their votes in the Indian general elections that take place in seven phases of which already 4 phases have been conducted. The counting is scheduled on 23rd May and results are expected on the same day. India – the world’s most populous democracy is projected to be the third largest economy by 2030 with a GDP of USD 46 trillion. It is projected that India will surpass China as the world’s most populous country.
Polarization in Belt and Road Forum
The second Belt and Road Initiative Forum which was concluded on 26th April in Beijing, promising to work together as a global initiative to promote trade and investment is expected to enter the next phase. The first forum held from 14th -15thof May 2017, was attended by 29 Heads of States while the second forum was attended by 45 with Portugal, Austria, UAE, Singapore, and Thailand among new signatories to the joint communiqué.
However, India remained a notable absentee. Germany, France and the United Kingdom did not sent their top leaders and particularly Germany and France have been the most vocal in expressing concerns. Top leaders of Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mozambique were present at the forum. South Asia remained notable in abstaining with top level representation. India was no show as it was deeply concerned that the China, Pakistan economic corridor passes through territory occupied by Pakistan but claimed by India. Among South Asian countries only Pakistan and Nepal sent their Heads of Governments. The Japanese Prime Minister and South Korean President were notable blank spots. The United States did not send any representation from Washington to this gathering. The newly appointed President to the World Bank too did not attend the forum.
Sri Lanka Tourism to Take a Heavy Toll
The Sri Lanka Government indicated that the income from the tourism industry may suffer by USD 1.5 billion in 2019 or a reduction of earnings by 35pct, following the devastating attack on Easter Sunday. The US, Canada, UK and India have cautioned their citizens about travelling to Sri Lanka. The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka has indicated that about 20% of hotel bookings are being cancelled with more expected.
The industry has expressed concerns as this is the first time tourist hotels have been targeted in this manner. However, Hiran Cooray Chairman of Jetwing hotels investments said that the tourism industry will come out of the impact of this calamity which even during the 26 years of war Sri Lankan has not experienced. Sri Lanka recorded 2.3 million tourist arrivals with USD 4.2 billion foreign earnings in 2018 – a sharp scale of expansion in comparison to the arrivals of 300,000 with USD 400 million earnings prior to ending the war in May 2009.