- Says focus on competitiveness and debt sustainability will ensure resilient rebound
Despite the heavy toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on Sri Lanka’s economy and the lives of its people, the economy will recover in 2021, though challenges remain, said the latest World Bank Sri Lanka Development Update: Economic and Poverty Impact of COVID-19 released last Friday.
The Sri Lanka Development Update (SLDU) noted that the country, hit with an unprecedented economic downturn due to the pandemic, is now on the road to recovery.
Sri Lanka’s economic growth is expected to recover to 3.4 percent in 2021, mainly due to foreign investments as well as normalising tourism and other economic activities.
However, the slow global recovery, coupled with continued trade restrictions, economic scarring from the slowdown, and the high debt burden may continue to affect growth.
The report provided an update on Sri Lanka’s economy and outlook, highlighting the devastating impact of the pandemic.
Sri Lanka’s economy contracted by 3.6 percent in 2020, the worst growth performance on record, as is the case in many countries fighting the pandemic.
“Government acted decisively with steps such as cash transfers and postponed tax payments. The Central Bank’s introduction of a debt moratorium and other measures to encourage lending also helped to reduce the adverse impact of COVID-19 on businesses and livelihoods. At the same time, increased expenditures and lower revenues amid the pandemic contributed to a deterioration of the fiscal situation,” the World Bank said.
“Public and publicly guaranteed debt is estimated to have increased to 109.7 percent of GDP. Reserves declined to an 11-year low in February 2021, and the exchange rate depreciated by 6.5 percent from January through March 17, 2021,” the report noted.
World Bank pointed out that striking a balance between supporting the economy amid COVID-19 and ensuring fiscal sustainability remains a key challenge.
“As in countries around the world, COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on Sri Lanka’s economy and people’s livelihoods. But we are already seeing positive signs as the country enters the recovery phase,” said Faris H. Hadad-Zervos, the World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
“Through an enhanced focus on export-oriented growth model that taps the full potential of private investment, Sri Lanka could increase its competitiveness and raise growth in a sustainable manner,” he added.
The Update includes a special focus section, which discusses the impact of COVID-19 on poverty. With jobs lost and earnings reduced, especially in urban areas and among private sector employees and informal workers, the US$ 3.20 poverty rate is projected to have increased from 9.2 percent in 2019 to 11.7 percent in 2020.
The report noted that the current social protection system could support the reintegration of those who lost their jobs. It suggested that more targeted social safety nets could help authorities to scale up support to the poor and vulnerable quickly and effectively in times of crises. Investments in digital technologies and literacy can also help Sri Lankans find new economic opportunities.