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Debt-Stricken Sri Lanka Reaches Initial Deal for I.M.F. Bailout


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka and the International Monetary Fund on Thursday reached a preliminary agreement on a bailout package because the bankrupt island nation tries to seek out a way out of a crippling economic crisis that toppled its president.

The deal, which still requires final approval from the I.M.F.’s executive board, would extend an emergency loan value $2.9 billion, in return for an overhaul of the country’s economy to cut back its fiscal deficits. The help would even be conditioned on engagement by Sri Lanka with creditors like Japan, China and India to restructure its huge foreign debt, on which the country defaulted this 12 months.

“Financing assurances to revive debt sustainability from Sri Lanka’s official creditors and making a good-faith effort to achieve a collaborative agreement with private creditors are crucial before the I.M.F. can provide financial support to Sri Lanka,” the organization said in an announcement announcing the staff-level agreement on the loan under a 48-month arrangement.

Sri Lanka’s debt crisis reached a climax within the spring, because the South Asian nation of twenty-two million ran out of foreign reserves for essential imports akin to fuel and medicine. After months of sustained protests over the deteriorating conditions, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose family had dominated Sri Lankan politics for much of the past twenty years, was forced out in July.

The brand new president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has warned of adverse times ahead as he has tried to put the groundwork for measures that might put the economy back heading in the right direction.

To cut back government expenses, he has increased the worth of electricity and fuel, which were heavily subsidized. As costs for energy imports have ballooned, reaching $500 million in some months, the country has rationed fuel and continued an intensive ban on imports of foreign goods.

In August, inflation for food items reached nearly 94 percent on a year-on-year basis, and transportation costs had increased by nearly 150 percent, based on data released by Sri Lanka’s Central Bank on Wednesday.

Sri Lanka’s external debt stands at about $50 billion, a majority of it from multilateral lenders and sovereign bonds. The debt soared in recent times because of huge tax cuts and reckless spending on expansive infrastructure projects. The ultimate blow got here with the pandemic lockdowns, which deprived the country of billions in overseas remittances in addition to tourism revenue.

Japan, considered one of the essential bilateral lenders, has announced its willingness to convene a conference of the creditors to assist restructure the debt, but it surely will not be clear when such a gathering would place or whether China would attend.

The 2 countries, together with India, make up the essential bilateral lenders. As Sri Lanka descended into crisis this 12 months and struggled to get latest funding, India prolonged billions of dollars in loans, credit lines and currency swaps.

For months, Sri Lanka’s economic crisis festered as officials in Mr. Rajapaksa’s government remained in denial of the gravity of the situation. Negotiations with the I.M.F. finally began in April in Washington, followed by virtual negotiations and visits by I.M.F. teams.

The discussions focused on reducing Sri Lanka’s fiscal deficits and “designing a comprehensive economic program to correct the macroeconomic imbalances, restore public debt sustainability,” the I.M.F. said.

W. A. Wijewardena, an economist who formerly served because the deputy governor of Sri Lanka’s Central Bank, said a few of the required reforms — akin to reducing the retirement age or improving tax collection — can be easier for the federal government to attain than others.

Privatizing state-owned enterprises which are a burden on the treasury, or shifting the economy to an export-oriented one that will bring Sri Lanka sufficient foreign reserves, are long-term projects that can require overcoming political pushback from powerful unions.

“So unless the federal government is capable of follow this reform program with a specifically set-out timeline with milestones at each point, I don’t think we are going to have the opportunity to get the country back on the old growth path,” Mr. Wijewardena said.

Skandha Gunasekara reported from Colombo, and Mujib Mashal from Mumbai, India.

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