By Charumini de Silva
Sri Lanka’s exports in 2021 recorded $ 15.12 billion, up by 23% from 2020 sustaining its resilience, despite an unprecedented economic crisis. The year 2021 performance comes second only to $ 15.91 billion recorded in 2018.
Releasing the latest provisional data, Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena appreciated the contribution of exporters to the economy, despite the unprecedented economic conditions they had to deal with, assuring more support to reach a $ 20 billion target this year.
“Exports are the only hope that can pull Sri Lanka out of the vicious cycle of the current account and put it back on a sound economic growth path. The structural change that was brought in with the open economic policies, Sri Lanka had struggled to move out from it. I have all the faith in our export community and as the subject minister I will assure to extend the fullest support to reach greater heights in the next three years,” he said.
Noting that apparel, tea, ICT, transport and logistics, rubber, coconut and spices have outperformed in 2021, the Trade Minister said that more support and emphasis should be given to the service exports which have a lot of potential.
EDB Chairman Suresh de Mel said 96.2% of the revised export forecast of $ 15.72 billion was achieved during 2021.
“The hard work and resilience of the export community was reflected in last year’s results. They surpassed the expected merchandise exports target of $ 12.14 billion, recording an increase of 24.17% to $ 12.5 billion,” de Mel said.
In mid-2021, the EDB upwardly revised the original export target of $ 15.68 billion to $ 15.72 billion, as post-COVID reopening of the country augured well for better export performance in 2021.
The estimated value of services exports for 2021 was $ 2.54 billion, up by 23% over the corresponding period of 2020. The services exports estimated by EDB consists of ICT/BPM, construction, financial services and transport and logistics and the targeted full-year estimate was $ 3.58 billion.
“Earnings from merchandise exports and services exports achieved 102.78 % and 73.88% respectively during the period of January to December 2021,” de Mel said.
The EDB Chief said almost all the major merchandise sectors; apparel and textiles, tea, rubber-based products, coconut-based products, electronics and electronic components, spices and concentrates, food and beverages, seafood and ornamental fish recorded increased exports.
In 2021, apparel and textile exports increased by 22.93% to $ 5,4 billion compared to the same period of 2020. Export of apparel and woven fabrics increased by 25.7% and 99.84% while exports of made-up textile articles and yarn and other textile articles dropped by 44.81% and 8.16%, respectively.
Export earnings from tea increased by 6.72% to $ 1.3 billion during the period of January to December 2021 compared with the corresponding period of 2020. Exports of all the subcategories of tea sector; tea packets (10.11%), bulk tea (2.47%,), tea bags (84.07%), instant tea (19.46%) and green tea (22.79%) increased 2021 compared to 2020.
Export earnings from rubber and rubber finished products increased by 33.87 % to $ 1.1 billion in January – December 2021 compared to the corresponding period of 2020 attributed to higher exports of industrial and surgical gloves of rubber (47.11%) and pneumatic and retreated rubber tyres and tubes (40.37%).
Earnings from Coconut and coconut-based products increased by 25.81% to $ 836.1 million from the same period last year. Earnings from all the major categories of coconut-based products increased in the period of January – December 2021 compared to corresponding period of 2020 due to the improved performance in export of liquid coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut milk powder, cocopeat, mattress fibre and activated carbon, coconut oil and desiccated coconut.
Electrical and electronic components (EEC) exports increased by 28.38 % to $ 421.42 million in 2021 compared to 2020. Export of insulated wires increased by 43.15 % during the period of January to December 2021 to $ 70.7 million from a year earlier. In addition, exports of electrical transformers, switches, boards and panels and other electrical and electronic products increased by 64.89%, 34.19% and 22.43 % respectively in 2021 from a year earlier.
Export earnings from spices and essential oils increased by 36.14% to$ 456.71 million in 2021 compared 2020 as a result of the better exports in all the subcategories; cinnamon (11.75%), pepper (131.62%), cloves (129.28%), nutmeg and mace (7.88) and oleoresins (77.73%), etc.
Export performance in major markets
Strong export performance was recorded in 10 major export markets, which accounted for 63% of total merchandise exports during 2021.
During the period of January to December 2021, exports to the US — Sri Lanka’s single largest export destination, increased by 22.4 % to $ 3.07 billion compared to the same period of 2020. The better performance led by increase in exports of apparel and textile (17.89%), rubber based products (pneumatic and retreated rubber tyres and tubes (47.62%), industrial and surgical gloves of rubber (40.47%)), motor vehicles parts (151.34%), activated carbon (40.29%) and cinnamon (17.18%).
Exports to the UK as the second largest trading partner recorded an increase of 2.55 % to $ 933.72 million in 2021 compared to 2020. This reflected with the increased exports of apparel and textile (15.22%), rubber based products sectors [pneumatic and retreated rubber tyres and tubes (39.23%), industrial and surgical gloves of rubber (19.25%)], frozen fish (33.33%) and other electrical and electronic products (12.64%).
Exports to FTA Partners
In 2021 exports to Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partners accounted for 7.2% and total merchandise exports increased by 33.57% to $ 906.99 million.
Exports to India and Pakistan increased by 34.84% and 23.3% YoY to $ 815.11 million and $ 91.88 million respectively during the period of January to December 2021. Increased Exports to India is mainly supported by increased exports of animal feed (26.19%), pepper (158.0%), woven fabrics 134.52%) and bicycles not motorised (239.6%).
In addition, better export performance to Pakistan was through desiccated coconut, other articles of stones, woven fabrics and perfumes, cosmetics, shampoos and make-up preparations and other electrical and electronic products.
Export performance in regions
On a regional comparison, exports to all other regions increased except CIS regions during the period of January to December 2021 compared with the corresponding period of the previous year.
Exports to the European Union (EU), which comprised 24% of Sri Lanka’s exports, increased by 29.78 % YoY to $ 2.9 billion.
Breakdown of exports to the top five EU markets which accounted for 80% of Sri Lanka’s total exports to the EU includes: Germany $ 754.11 million (increased by 32.21%), Italy $ 578.91 million (increased by 26.59%), Netherlands $ 425.72 million (increased by 46.71 %), Belgium $ 334.32 million (increased by 13.14%) and France $ 245.92 million (increased by 33.12%).