SL requests credit from India, Pakistan to buy essentials 

Buddhika Samaraweera

Amidst warnings from various quarters that Sri Lanka is heading for a major food shortage, Trade Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardana has made a request from India and Pakistan to offer credit lines for the purchase of essential commodities, with discussions currently underway between the Trade Ministry and the two diplomatic missions.

When contacted by The Morning yesterday (30), Trade Ministry Secretary Bhadranie Jayawardhana said: “This is currently being discussed. The Trade Ministry and the High Commissions of the relevant countries are holding discussions. If the discussions are successful and such a programme is implemented, the importation of goods will be done by the State Trading (General) Corporation (STC).”

However, when inquired whether there is any time frame during which the said imports would be made, she said that there is none.

Noting that Dr. Gunawardana had made the request when the High Commissioners of India and Pakistan had met him, Jayawardhana said that the request was made because Sri Lanka mostly buys rice, big onion, and potato from countries like India and Pakistan.

“Those countries also buy Sri Lankan goods under credit facilities. We also buy goods from them in that manner, which is a normal trade activity,” she added.

On Tuesday (28), United National Party (UNP) Leader and Parliamentarian Ranil Wickremesinghe called on the Government to finalise the purchase of food and fuel on credit from India, which is currently under discussion, as there will inevitably be a food shortage by the coming Sinhala and Hindu New Year. Wickremesinghe had noted that this year’s harvest from crops in many areas was only 60% of last year’s harvest.

“Think about the political issues we would have to face if such a situation arises. In such a situation, there will be an explosion among the furious general public. This affects both the Government and the Parliament. Therefore, in order to develop the country, the occurrence of such a situation must be prevented,” he had noted.

Claiming that the Government is currently in talks with India to buy fuel and food on credit, Wickremesinghe therefore said that those talks should be concluded and the relevant agreements finalised.

“Borrowing or borrowing goods will not solve the current foreign exchange crisis in the country, but I urge the Government to implement the programme of purchasing food and oil on credit, at least to get temporary relief.”

Last Tuesday (21), then Ministry of Agriculture Secretary Prof. Udith K. Jayasinghe-Mudalige told the media that there is a possibility of a food shortage due to the crisis situation in the country. He said that if there would be any such shortage of food, it would be necessary to resort to a food exchange system.

“If we have a surplus of maize, we can ask another country for some other food,” he said. He further said that if there is a shortage of food, it would be necessary to reduce food for groups like youngsters, thereby giving priority in the food supply to pregnant and lactating mothers, children, and the sick.

The next day, last Wednesday (22), President Gotabaya Rajapaksa removed Prof. Jayasinghe-Mudalige from his post and appointed D.M.L.D. Bandaranayake as Ministry of Agriculture Secretary.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday (29), Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said that if the agronomists say that there could be a food shortage in the country, a programme should be prepared to address it instead of blaming them. He also said that what agronomists had warned of in this manner had happened in the past and that their views should therefore be listened to.

Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) Leader and Minister of Education Dinesh Gunawardena said earlier this week that that the opinion of the party is that a guarantee should be provided to the low-income groups in the country regarding the provision of essential food items and that a letter in this regard has been submitted to the government authorities.

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