Sri Lanka aims to have $4b IMF loan finalised in December: Sources

Sri Lanka is struggling with its worst economic crisis in more than seven decades. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON - Sri Lanka expects the International Monetary Fund board to approve a US$2.9 billion (S$4 billion) loan by year end - that is what officials from the country's central bank told investors during a virtual presentation on Friday, said sources participating in the event.

Sri Lanka is struggling with its worst economic crisis in more than seven decades, which has led to shortages of essentials and the ouster of a president.

The country expects to renegotiate its debt with private and official creditors after the IMF board approval of the loan, which is expected by mid-December. From now until mid-November, the country looks forward to obtain financing assurances from public- and private-sector creditors.

It aims to reach agreements in principle with all the creditors between the last quarter of 2022 and the second quarter of 2023, the sources said.

Earlier in September, Sri Lanka reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF for the loan, contingent on it receiving financing assurances from official creditors and negotiations with private creditors.

The virtual presentation to investors on Friday marks the first time the government has formally engaged with private bondholders after deciding earlier this year that it would restructure US$13 billion in international sovereign bonds, held by private creditors such as asset managers BlackRock and Ashmore.

Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe and Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena participated in the virtual presentation, along with representatives of financial and legal advisers Lazard and Clifford Chance.

Bilateral debt talks

Sri Lanka also needs to renegotiate debt with bilateral creditors such as China, Japan and India. According to sources attending the presentation, Sri Lankan government officials said the country is encouraging an ad-hoc bilateral creditor coordination platform to obtain financing assurances from official bilateral creditors.

As a middle-income country, according to the World Bank, Sri Lanka is not able to engage in talks with bilateral creditors under the Group of 20 common framework for debt treatments.

The country officials added that the ad-hoc platform should be established by the creditors themselves as soon as possible, while the government is only promoting it.

The sources said a representative from Lazard, which is advising the government, said that this initiative would resemble the G-20 platform. It will offer equal footing for creditors to access relevant information and a forum to discuss emergency credit lines, the presentation showed, according to the sources.

Sri Lanka's total foreign currency debt of US$38.7 billion amounts to 48.2 per cent of its gross domestic product, the latest IMF report showed in March.

Government officials added that the perimeter for a local debt restructuring is still being looked into because of its impact on the domestic banking system, and no final decision has been made yet. No default on any local currency debt has occurred so far, they added.

The central bank governor said the country has paid Sri Lanka Development Bonds in both dollar and local currency. These bonds make up US$2.6 billion, which is 3.3 per cent of GDP, according to the IMF's latest Article IV Review released in March.

REUTERS

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