Colombo, Sri Lanka ( Associated Press) – United States officials arrived in Sri Lanka on Sunday to help lift the country out of a dire economic crisis that has led to a shortage of basic goods.
The United States has announced millions of dollars in aid over the past two weeks to Sri Lanka, which is surviving on a $4 billion loan from neighboring India. It has also received promises of between $300 million and $600 million from the World Bank to buy medicines and other supplies.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced last week that the economy had “collapsed” due to falling reserves and a heavy debt load, a crisis worsened by the pandemic and other long-standing factors.
The US delegation is led by Robert Kaproth, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Asia, and Kelly Keiderling, Under Secretary for South and Central Asia.
During their four-day stay, the delegation will meet with a wide range of politicians, economists and representatives of international organizations to “explore the most effective ways to help Sri Lankans in need, to solve the current economic crisis”. and those who are working to build an inclusive and sustainable economy for the future”, the US embassy indicated in a press release.
“The visit underscores our commitment to the security and prosperity of the people of Sri Lanka,” said US ambassador to the country, Julie Chung.
He said that at a time when Sri Lanka is facing “one of the greatest economic challenges in its history, our efforts to support economic development and democratic institutions have never been more important.”
The United States has announced $120 million for small and medium-sized businesses, a $27 million contribution to Sri Lanka’s dairy industry, and $5.75 million in humanitarian assistance. Another 6 million have been earmarked for technical assistance for livelihood and financial improvement.
Sri Lanka says it cannot pay its foreign debt of $7 billion this year and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package. It will have to pay an average of ₹5,000 million annually by 2026. Officials have asked the IMF to hold a conference call with the creditors.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera on Saturday asked citizens not to queue to buy gasoline as shipments are being delayed “due to banking and logistical problems.”
He said a limited amount would be supplied to gas stations across the country next week. He warned that “priority will be given to public transport, power generating plants and the country’s industry” until the next shipment arrives.