Germany urges Sri Lanka to end import controls

ECONOMYNEXT – Germany has urged Sri Lanka to end import controls which have blocked vehicles and other goods for over two years as money printed to keep rates low, created dollar shortages and depleted foreign exchange reserves.

Sri Lanka slapped import controls in April 2020 as the credibility of highly instable soft-peg fell steeply.

Though total imports went up as credit recovered and funds went into areas not controlled by interventionist bureaucrats, items that brought high levels of taxes such as cars remained barred.

Amid Sri Lanka’s import controls the usual trade surplus with Sri Lanka has widened even further, Germany’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka Holger Seubert said.

He said Germany generally stood for free and fair trade.

“These import restrictions are neither fair nor free,” he said addressing a forum of Top German Brands which is now numbering about 178 firms.

“Sri Lanka is today exporting to Germany three times as much in value as Germany’s exporting to Sri Lanka.

“And the gap, as I said, is increasing. This means that our bilateral trade is getting somewhat of a one-way street of a one sided fair.”

Ambassador Seubert said he was aware that Sri Lanka had external problems.

“We fully understand all of us in this room understand why the government decided to do so,” he said.

“However, I just wanted to make the point that I’m afraid becoming a one sided affair is of course of concern to the German government, as well.”

Ambassador Seubert said President’s Secretary P B Jayasundera had helped trouble shoot many problems faced by German investors and companies in Sri Lanka in recent months and he had been a “true friend” of Germany.

German companies have been a reliable partners for Sri Lanka providing a market for exporters of the island during the Coronavirus pandemic Andreas Hergenroether, Chief Delegate of the Delegation of German Industry & Commerce in Sri Lanka said.

“In the most difficult times German companies remained here and were also reliable customers of Sri Lankan exporters,” he said.

Ceylon Oxygen, a unit of Linde group has also expanded Oxygen supplies without bureaucracy, and other firms had were also providing medical equipment, he said.

“German products and services stand for state of the art solutions and the businessmen for fairness and reliability,” Hergenroether.

“And these are some of the reasons why Germany with a population of 82 million inhabitants have for many years been the third largest exporter of the world. Even in the year of the pandemic 2020 Germany exports were about 1.2 trillion Euros.”

He said in 2020 German exports to Sri Lanka fell 26.3 percent, while Sri Lanka’s exports to Germany fell 5.1 percent.

He said German exports to Sri Lanka grew 14 percent up to September 2021, and exports from Sri Lanka rose 18 percent.

Addressing President’s Secretary P B Jayasundera who was in the audience, he said he understood the difficult situation Sri Lanka was in.

“But after almost two years of import restrictions we hope that with a step-by-step approach we will be able to get an ease on the imporint restrictions, not only for the interest of of the German companies but also for the interest of the importing companies – the Sri Lankan partners.”

Sri Lanka has had a history of controlling trade as money printing by a central bank set up in 1950 created forex pressure.

At one time Germany also had similar problems, particular during the Weimar Republic period when it was unable to settle external obligations and eventually experienced hyperinflation.

Reforms were then brought to the Riechsbank to make it more difficult to print money first with the issue of an interim currency called the Rentenmark and Reichsmark.

At the time Britain’s John Maynard Keynes claimed that there was a ‘transfer problem’ and a trade surplus was needed to repay foreign obligations.

However others, especially Austrian and Swedish economists explained that if monetary stability was maintained without printing money, external payments will reduce a trade deficit and would even create a surplus as resources available for domestic consumption and investment fell.

In the 1930s when national socialists got control of the country, Germany again had difficulty in importing raw materials as the central bank resorted to printing money through a roundabout way using so-called Mefo bills.

Sri Lanka’s central bank law however has clauses which allow unrestrained money printing.

Germanys external problems however ended with the setting up of the Deutsche Bundesbank which issued Deutsche Marks with Ordoliberals driving policy after nationalists were defeated in World War II.

After World War II, Ordoliberals started driving policy and a new Bundesbank was created with the Deutsche Mark replacing the wartime inflated currency paving the way for the German Economic Miracle with a strong exchange rate.

Analysts have called for tight controls on the central bank to end forex troubles in Sri Lanka which have intensified after the country shifted to call money rate targeting with excess liquidity. (Colombo/Nov23/2021)

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