Sri Lanka could wrap up debt restructure talks by Sept, president says

Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida

Sri Lankan president Ranil Wickremesinghe and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shake hands before their meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office Thursday, May 25, 2023, in Tokyo. (Photo: President’s Media – Sri Lanka)

Crisis-stricken Sri Lanka should be able to conclude newly-launched debt restructuring talks by September, or November at the latest, its president said on Thursday, adding that the negotiations had made “remarkable” progress.

Sri Lanka secured a $2.9 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund in March but must set up a debt restructuring framework by September to carry forward the program, or risk undermining a slow economic recovery.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s comment came as he began a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the latter’s office in Tokyo, the capital.

“We have made remarkable headway as far as the debt restructuring talks are concerned,” Wickremesinghe said.

“(We) should be able to conclude by September, or November the latest.”

Kishida’s meeting with the Sri Lankan leader, their first since last September, is unlikely to generate a new initiative but both sides would take stock of the efforts to restructure debt, a Japanese official told Reuters.

Last month, France, India and Japan unveiled a common platform for talks among bilateral creditors to co-ordinate restructuring of the debt.

The island nation defaulted on its foreign debt for the first time in its history in April last year as the worst financial crisis since independence from Britain in 1948 crushed its economy.

The IMF called this week for timely restructuring pacts with the country’s creditors. The global lender said Sri Lanka’s macroeconomic situation was improving, although earlier it had predicted the economy would contract this year.

Sri Lanka owes $7.1 billion to its creditors, with $3 billion owed to China, $1.6 billion to India and $2.4 billion to the Paris Club, a group of creditor nations.