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Sri Lanka keen to join BRICS, seeks India’s backing

Sri Lankan foreign minister emphasised that Colombo would reach out first to New Delhi whenever it formally applies to join the BRICS grouping….reports Asian Lite News

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Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry expressed his country’s keenness to join the BRICS grouping on Monday and conveyed that the group has become a ‘good body’ after India became part of it. He emphasized that Sri Lanka would reach out first to India whenever it formally applies to join the BRICS grouping.

“We will look forward for BRICS. Also, I think the cabinet had appointed a sub-committee to look into that and recommend to us. We would like to see that because we would like to have multiple options. Who doesn’t want to? So therefore BRICS is a good body, particularly since India is a part of it,” Sabry said in an interview with ANI.

Modi’s participation at BRICS summit showcases India’s Strategic Autonomy doctrine.(photo:IN)

“The first country we would be talking to is India and seek India’s support for us to reach to the BRICS. And then of course I have been invited to take part on the BRICS foreign ministers meeting in Russia. So I hope that I will be there and then we will assess that. And yes, I think that right now personally if you ask me, I think that we should look at BRICS seriously,” he added.

On January 1, 2024, Russia took over the chairmanship of BRICS, an intergovernmental organization that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, plus four new members: Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates.

Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates joined BRICS as new full members, which is a strong indication of the growing authority of the association and its role in international affairs.

When asked if Sri Lanka is looking to host any high-level visit from India, the Sri Lankan Minister said that his president visited India recently and now they are looking to host the Indian Prime Minister and a high-level delegation in the country.

“We are looking forward to the visit to the Indian prime Minister as soon as possible when the circumstances conduce you for such a visit because my president already visited last year. So this is the turn for the Indian prime minister to visit Sri Lanka,” he said.

“We would hope for a high-level delegation with a very powerful business delegation accompanying the honourable Prime Minister and visiting Sri Lanka in near future, that will further strengthen our relationship, which is at an all-time high,” he added.

At the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe visited India on an official visit on July 21, 2023. This was President Wickremesinghe’s first visit to India since assuming the current responsibilities.

During his visit, President Wickremesinghe met President Droupadi Murmu and held discussions with the Prime Minister and other Indian dignitaries on a range of issues of mutual interest.

Sri Lanka is an important partner in India’s Neighbourhood First Policy and Vision SAGAR. The visit reinforced the longstanding friendship between the two countries and explored avenues for enhanced connectivity and mutually beneficial cooperation across sectors. (ANI)

India marching towards economic glory: Lankan FM

Hailing the ‘excellent’ relationship between Colombo and New Delhi, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Ali Sabry said that India is marching towards economic glory, which is not only good for the region but also for countries like Sri Lanka.

He said Sri Lanka is also looking at a lot of investment in ports, renewable energy, and other infrastructure, which makes it a win-win situation for both nations.

“We have an excellent relationship, I think almost all-time high. There is a multi-faceted partnership between the two countries. Economically, we are trying to engage with each other for the common benefit of each other… I think that will open up many more avenues for the Indian to visit Colombo and see,” Sabry told ANI.

“And we are looking at a lot of investment in ports and renewable energy, in other infrastructure. So going forward, we see a win-win situation for both countries. As I always maintained, India is marching towards economic glory, and that’s good for the region and good for the countries like Sri Lanka,” he added.

Shedding light on the civilizational ties shared between Sri Lanka and India, Sabry noted that all the communities in the island nation are influenced by Indian civilization.

“I think the entire civilizational contact we have had for a long period of time in multifaceted Buddhism is Sri Lanka’s biggest gift from India. So there is so much in common between the countries,” he said.

“All communities, Buddhists, Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, all have been influenced by the Indian civilization. So we see a lot of partnership going forward, and this Ramayan trail may be a very good beginning for us to further spur the already good tourism and people-to-people connection,” he added.

The sacred water, drawn from the revered Saryu River in Ayodhya, India, marked the auspicious beginning of a journey destined for the Seetha Amman Temple in Seetha Eliya last week. The event, which resonated with ancient traditions and divine reverence, symbolized the deep-rooted cultural ties between India and Sri Lanka.

Seetha Amman Temple, nestled in the tranquil village of Seetha Eliya, holds profound mythological significance as the purported location, Goddess Sita was held captive by Ravana, according to ancient lore.

Enhancing the sanctity of the ceremony, five revered Kalash filled with Saryu water from the holy city of Ayodhya have been ceremoniously brought in, infusing the proceedings with spiritual resonance and symbolic purity.

In terms of connectivity, both nations are, at present, looking at the feasibility of it, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister said, “I think connectivity, we are looking at the feasibility of it right now. After the President’s visit, Chief of Staff Sagal Ratnaikar visited with a host of senior officials to India, and they had a very good discussion. So like right now we are looking at the feasibility of it. I see once the feasibility is there, probably connectivity things will open.”

“And already I think more flight connections have started from Sri Lanka and from India and also vice versa. Similarly, we are very excited about the launch of the ferry services. So connectivity is multifaceted. Some of those things will take time. But the desire to connect both sides of people and then to help each other is there from both sides,” Sabry added.

The ferry service between Nagappatinam in India and Kankesanthurai (KKS) near Jaffna is a high-speed ferry operated by the Shipping Corporation of India and has a capacity of 150 passengers, according to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

The distance of about 60 nm (110 Km) between Nagapattinam and Kankesanthurai will be covered in approximately 3.5 hours depending on sea conditions, according to MEA.

In order to start the ferry service, the Indian government supported the Tamil Nadu Maritime Board in upgrading facilities at the Nagapattinam port. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government had created the necessary infrastructure at the port of KKS.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister also expressed condolences on the demise of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in a helicopter crash on Sunday afternoon in northwestern Iran.

“We are deeply saddened by both the Iranian president and the party ministers this sudden demise on tragic circumstances. They have been good friends of Sri Lanka. I visited Iran. Iranian foreign minister and the president visited Sri Lanka very recently. So naturally, we are very saddened by this tragic death and also condolences to the family and the people of Iran,” Sabry said.

The chopper, which also carried other officials, had disappeared in the mountains of northwestern Iran after making a ‘hard landing’ on Sunday. All those onboard were confirmed killed on Monday morning around 16 hours after the helicopter they were travelling in crashed in poor weather.

Raisi was returning to Iran following a visit to Azerbaijan when his helicopter came down in bad weather conditions. (ANI)

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Lanka to Present Economic Boost Bills to Parliament

In 2022, Sri Lanka’s public debt ratio stood at 128 per cent, a figure slated to be reduced to less than 95 per cent by 2032, said Semasinghe…reports Asian Lite News

The Sri Lankan government will introduce two significant bills aimed at bolstering the country’s economy to Parliament on Wednesday, a Minister said.

The “Economic Transformation Bill” and the “Public Financial Management Bill” are designed to enhance public finance management and safeguard against future economic downturns, State Minister of Finance Shehan Semasinghe told a press conference on Monday.

Semasinghe said it is necessary to maintain optimal levels of public financial management to avert future economic crises, and the bills are aligned with recommendations from a collaborative program with the International Monetary Fund, Xinhua news agency reported.

He added that the legislation encompasses reforms essential for international trade, trade agreements, and climate change mitigation efforts.

In 2022, Sri Lanka’s public debt ratio stood at 128 per cent, a figure slated to be reduced to less than 95 per cent by 2032, said Semasinghe.

Similarly, the fiscal requirement, which was 34.6 per cent of GDP in 2022, aims to be lowered to below 13 per cent by 2032, according to the Minister.

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Lanka Seeks Debt Moratorium Till 2027 Amid Crisis

The President claimed that the South Asian island nation faces a significant burden of debt….writes Susitha Fernando

Financially-broke Sri Lanka seeks a debt default till 2027 from both local and international lenders to ease the debt burden on the country’s GDP.

Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe announced in Parliament that by 2022, the country was slated to repay nearly $6 billion in foreign debt annually, amounting to about 9.5 per cent of the GDP, a considerable strain for any nation.

The President claimed that the South Asian island nation faces a significant burden of debt.

“Currently, we are actively engaged in discussions regarding the restructuring of all loans, including domestic and foreign loans. We are optimistic that these negotiations will reach a successful resolution soon. Our goal is to obtain temporary relief from debt defaults from 2023 to 2027,” Wickremesinghe said presenting its plans to repaying the loans in the period from 2027 to 2042.

“Through successful negotiations for debt restructuring, we aim to alleviate this burden by reducing the annual foreign debt payments to 4.5 per cent of the GDP, a substantial halving of the previous percentage,” President Wickremesinghe said in a special statement in the Parliament on Wednesday.

Going through a severe economic crisis and a dollar crunch, Sri Lanka defaulted on its foreign debt in May 2022 and declared that the country was bankrupt.

At the end of September, Sri Lanka’s overall debt was at $91 billion.

To help temper sky-rocketing inflation and increase foreign exchange reserves, Sri Lanka struck a $2.9 billion bailout package with the International Monetary Fund in March last year.

In April 2023, India together with Japan and France came to help debt-ridden Sri Lanka initiating a common platform for talks among bilateral creditors to coordinate restructuring Sri Lanka’s debt.

However, China, Sri Lanka’s biggest single bilateral lender, accounting for around 10 per cent of total foreign debt stayed away from the joint effort.

As of June 2023 China held 52 per cent of Sri Lanka’s bilateral debt while Japan, the second largest creditor held 20 per cent, followed by India at 12 per cent and France at three per cent.

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India Powers Isolated Sri Lankan Islands

The hybrid project, which is aimed at addressing energy needs of the people of the three islands combines various forms of energy including both solar and wind…reports Asian Lite News

India on Friday inked a pact with Sri Lanka to provide renewable energy to three islands Delft, Nainativu and Analaitivu off Jaffna which are completely cut off from the national grid.

On behalf of Sri Lankan government, Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority and M/s. U Solar Clean Energy Solutions Pvt. Ltd from India signed the contract for the implementation of Hybrid Renewable Energy Systems as a grant assistance from Government of India (GOI).

The agreement was signed in the presence of High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka Santosh Jha and Sri Lanka State Minister for Power and Energy Indika Anuruddha.

The hybrid project, which is aimed at addressing energy needs of the people of the three islands combines various forms of energy including both solar and wind, towards optimising capacities, the Indian High Commission said.

“GOI’s assistance to the project for the people of the three islands, which are not connected to the national grid, underscores the significance attached by country to bilateral energy partnership as well as the human-centric nature of development partnership,” the High Commission said.

The energy sector was identified as a priority area in the India-Sri Lanka Economic Partnership Vision document which was adopted during the visit of Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe to India in July, 2023.

“Several landmark initiatives such as the power grid connectivity, multi product two-way oil pipeline are currently under discussion between India and Sri Lanka in the energy sphere,” it added.

“GOI’s overall development partnership portfolio stands at USD 5 billion with almost USD 600 million being in grants alone. While several flagship grant projects such as 1990 Suwaseriya Emergency Ambulance have already been completed, others such as the third and fourth phases of Indian Housing Project and Sri Lanka Unique Digital Identity Project are under different stages of implementation, the High Commission said.

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Sri Lanka Faces High Electricity Production Costs

The CEB spokesman said earlier that they are generating more than 60 per cent of the electricity using thermal power…report Asian Lite News

Sri Lanka’s state-owned electricity producer and distributor, the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), has urged people to use electricity sparingly as demand for power has grown due to the dry weather, a senior official told the media.

CEB spokesman Noel Priyantha told the media on Sunday that electricity demand has increased by between three and four gigawatt hours in the past month, Xinhua news agency reported.

Usually, electricity consumption increases during dry periods in Sri Lanka as people use electric fans and air conditioning to keep cool, energy experts say.

Priyantha said the percentage of electricity produced by hydropower has dropped to 21 per cent in recent days due to dry weather, and 4.5 per cent of electricity is generated from solar and five per cent from wind farms.

The CEB spokesman said earlier that they are generating more than 60 per cent of the electricity using thermal power.

The cost of generating electricity using thermal power is high and this is one of the main reasons why the cost of electricity production is among the highest in Asia, Narendra De Silva, general manager of CEB, has said

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Lanka Ups Tourism Efforts

With the government’s new initiatives, there has been a significant surge in tourist arrivals…reports Asian Lite News

Sri Lanka has rolled out infrastructure development projects and innovative tourism promotion programmes in a bid to attract high-end tourists, the President’s Media Division (PMD) said.

The PMD said in a press statement that President Ranil Wickremesinghe conducted a tour of Tangalle and Galle areas on Saturday to assess tourism industry resurgence on the southern coast of the country, Xinhua news agency reported.

During the tour, the President visited several tourist hotels, talking with owners to understand their challenges first hand, the PMD added.

The PMD said the tourism sector in Sri Lanka faced a rapid downturn due to the Covid-19 pandemic and economic challenges.

With the government’s new initiatives, there has been a significant surge in tourist arrivals, said the PMD, adding that more than 1.4 million tourists visited Sri Lanka in 2023.

Building on this momentum, the government aims to surpass the peak of 2.5 million tourists in 2017, with plans underway to achieve this milestone by 2024, the PMD said.

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Lanka plans to amend controversial Online Safety Act

The existing law holds social media companies accountable for objectionable content shared on their platforms as determined by Sri Lankan authorities….reports Asian Lite News

Sri Lanka announced plans on Tuesday to revise its stringent internet censorship law following backlash from major global tech firms, who faced potential legal repercussions for content shared on social media platforms. Information minister Bandula Gunawardana revealed that the cabinet had decided to amend the hastily passed Online Safety Law, acknowledging concerns raised by experts in the field.

The existing law holds social media companies accountable for objectionable content shared on their platforms as determined by Sri Lankan authorities. In response to opposition from an international coalition of tech companies, who deemed the legislation impractical, the government pledged to incorporate expert input into the proposed amendments.

Critics, including opposition lawmakers, condemned the law as an attempt to silence political dissent ahead of upcoming presidential elections. Social media played a pivotal role in mobilizing protests during Sri Lanka’s severe economic crisis in 2022, leading to widespread demonstrations and the resignation of then-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The law imposes severe penalties, including up to 10 years in prison for social media executives failing to disclose user information linked to illicit content. It also criminalizes anonymous and parody social media accounts, extending jurisdiction to users posting from abroad. Public security minister Tiran Alles previously refuted claims that the law would suppress dissent.

UPI services in Sri Lanka

 India recently launched its Unified Payment Interface (UPI) services in Sri Lanka and Mauritius.

RuPay card services were also launched in Mauritius as part of this initiative.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the inaugural event virtually alongside his Mauritian counterpart Pravind Jugnauth, and Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Indians visiting the two nations will be able to utilise UPI services to make payments, and Mauritians travelling to India will be able to do the same. Additionally, Mauritian banks will be able to issue RuPay cards and use them for transactions in both India and Mauritius.

The launch of the Indian services comes amid growing bilateral economic ties with Sri Lanka and Mauritius.

UPI services, developed by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), enable immediate real-time bank transactions using mobile phones.

RuPay is an Indian-based card payment network that is widely accepted at retail locations, ATMs, and online platforms globally.

Prior to this, NPCI International Payments Limited (NIPL) worked with Lyra, a well-known French expert in e-commerce and proximity payments, to introduce UPI services to France.

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Lanka Gears Up for 2025 Election Battle

Last week, the cabinet of ministers approved a proposal to allocate 10 billion rupees for elections to be held in 2024…reports Asian Lite News

Sri Lanka’s general election will be held in 2025 and the presidential election will be held within mandated period, the President’s Media Division (PMD) said on Tuesday.

The Election Commission is responsible for holding elections and the government will be communicating with the commission as and when required, the PMD said in a statement, Xinhua news agency reported.

Last week, the cabinet of ministers approved a proposal to allocate 10 billion rupees for elections to be held in 2024, the government’s information department said in a statement.

According to the country’s constitution, the forthcoming presidential election should be held before October 17, 2024.

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UPI arrival spurs tourism, economic growth in Lanka, Mauritius

Prabhu Ram, Head, Industry Intelligence Group at CMR, told that UPI’s debut in Sri Lanka and Mauritius marks a series of ongoing pivotal steps in making digital payments more pervasive globally…reports Asian Lite News

The launch of Unified Payment Interface (UPI) services in Sri Lanka and Mauritius by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a significant step in establishing India’s global leadership in fintech and payments innovation, the industry said on Monday.

PM Modi, along with Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, inaugurated the launch of UPI, and also RuPay card services in Mauritius, via video conferencing.

“UPI has truly revolutionised the way we pay every day in India. With this expansion, UPI will bring convenience and digital growth to these countries and open new opportunities for cross-border commerce and travel,” Upasana Taku, Co-founder and CFO, MobiKwik, told IANS.

PM Modi underlined that fintech connectivity will further strengthen cross-border transactions and connections.

“India’s UPI comes in a new role today — Uniting Partners with India,” he emphasised.

Prabhu Ram, Head, Industry Intelligence Group at CMR, told that UPI’s debut in Sri Lanka and Mauritius marks a series of ongoing pivotal steps in making digital payments more pervasive globally.

“UPI will facilitate commerce, foster great economic integration, boost cross-border travel, and simplify tourist experiences for Indian tourists,” he said.

Speaking about the convenience and speed of UPI transactions, PM Modi informed that more than 100 billion transactions took place via UPI last year, worth Rs 2 lakh crores or 8 trillion Sri Lankan rupees or 1 trillion Mauritius rupees.

The extension of RuPay card services in Mauritius will also enable Mauritian banks to issue cards based on RuPay mechanism in the country and facilitate usage of RuPay Card for settlements in India and Mauritius.

UPI has facilitated over 40 per cent of India’s digital transactions, highlighting the country’s potential for embracing fintech innovations. The rapid expansion of fintech in India has created a significant need for skilled professionals, particularly in IT, engineering and sales.

“Over 60 per cent of fintech firms seek proficient personnel to navigate this dynamic landscape. To meet these demands, apprenticeship programmes are vital in nurturing talent and bridging the skills gap,” said Dhriti Prasanna Mahanta, Vice President & Business Head, TeamLease Degree Apprenticeship.

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Modi, Wickremesinghe, Jugnauth to launch UPI services in Lanka, Mauritius

The launch will enable the availability of UPI settlement services for Indian nationals travelling to Sri Lanka and Mauritius…reports Asian Lite News

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister of Mauritius, Pravind Jugnauth will witness the launch of Unified Payment Interface (UPI) services in Sri Lanka and Mauritius, as well as, RuPay card services in Mauritius, on Monday 1 pm via video conferencing, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said.

India has emerged as a leader in fintech innovation and digital public infrastructure. PM Modi has placed a strong emphasis on sharing our development experiences and innovation with partner countries.

Given India’s robust cultural and people-to-people linkages with Sri Lanka and Mauritius, the launch will benefit a wide cross-section of people through a faster and seamless digital transaction experience and enhance digital connectivity between the countries, the MEA release also said.

The launch will enable the availability of UPI settlement services for Indian nationals travelling to Sri Lanka and Mauritius, as well as, for Mauritian nationals travelling to India.

The extension of RuPay card services in Mauritius will enable Mauritian banks to issue cards based on the RuPay mechanism in Mauritius and facilitate the usage of RuPay cards for settlements both in India and Mauritius, it added.

Notably, during Wickremesinghe’s New Delhi visit in July 2023, India and Sri Lanka inked an agreement of UPI’s acceptance in the island country.

Earlier that year, in February, PhonePe, Indian digital payments and financial technology company, launched support for cross-border UPI payments, under UPI International, allowing the apps’ users to use their Indian bank accounts to pay at merchant outlets in the UAE, Singapore, Mauritius, Nepal and Bhutan, The Bhutan Live reported.

With this, PhonePe became the first in its category to integrate UPI International. UPI International, introduced by the cross-border arm of the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI International Payments Limited), facilitates UPI transactions for the Indian diaspora abroad.

Rahul Chari, CTO and co-founder of PhonePe, as quoted by The Bhutan Live, said, “UPI International is the first major step in letting the rest of the world experience UPI too. I am sure this launch will prove to be a game-changer and will completely transform the way Indians travelling overseas pay at merchant outlets abroad.”

PhonePe is India’s largest UPI app by market size. The app raised USD 350 million in funding as part of its USD 1 billion fundraising ahead of an initial public offering (IPO).

The UPI payment system has become hugely popular for retail digital payments in India, and its adoption is increasing at a rapid pace. It is India’s mobile-based fast payment system, which facilitates customers to make round-the-clock payments instantly using a virtual payment address (VPA) created by the customer. (ANI)

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