News Desk: Sri Lanka is in the midst of a deep and unprecedented economic crisis that has sparked huge protests and seen its president quit after fleeing the country - but other countries could be at risk of similar troubles, according to the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“Countries with high debt levels and limited policy space will face additional strains. Look no further than Sri Lanka as a warning sign,” said IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva on Saturday, reports BBC.
She said developing nations had also been experiencing sustained capital outflows for four months in a row, putting their dreams of catching up with advanced economies at risk.
Sri Lanka is struggling to pay for crucial imports like food, fuel and medicine for its 22 million people as it battles a foreign exchange crisis. Inflation has soared about 50 per cent, with food prices 80 per cent higher than a year ago. The Sri Lankan rupee has slumped in value against the US dollar and other major global currencies this year.
Many blame ex-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for mishandling the economy with disastrous policies whose impact was only exacerbated by the pandemic.
Over the years, Sri Lanka had built up a huge amount of debt - last month, it became the first country in the Asia Pacific region in 20 years to default on foreign debt.
Officials had been negotiating with the IMF for a $3 billion bailout. But those talks are currently stalled amid the political chaos.
But the same global headwinds - rising inflation and interest rate hikes, depreciating currencies, high levels of debt and dwindling foreign currency reserves - also affect other economies in the region.
China has been a dominant lender to several of these developing nations and therefore could control their destinies in crucial ways. But it’s largely unclear what Beijing’s lending conditions have been, or how it may restructure the debt.
Where China is at fault, according to Alan Keenan from International Crisis Group, is in encouraging and supporting expensive infrastructure projects that have not produced major economic returns.
“Equally important has been their active political support for the ruling Rajapaksa family and its policies... These political failures are at the heart of Sri Lanka’s economic collapse, and until they are remedied through constitutional change and a more democratic political culture, Sri Lanka is unlikely to escape its current nightmare.”
Worryingly, other countries appear to be on a similar trajectory, such as Laos, Pakistan, and even Bangladesh.
Inflation hit an 8-year high in May in Bangladesh, touching 7.42 per cent.
With reserves dwindling, the government has acted fast to curb non-essential imports, relaxing rules to attract remittances from millions of migrants living overseas and reducing foreign trips for officials.
“For economies running current account deficits - such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka - governments face serious headwinds in increasing subsidies. Pakistan and Sri Lanka have turned to the IMF and other governments for financial assistance,” Kim Eng Tan, a sovereign analyst at S&P Global Ratings, told the BBC.
“Bangladesh has had to re-prioritise government spending and impose restrictions on consumer activities,” he said.
Rising food and energy prices are threatening the pandemic-battered world economy. Now developing nations that have borrowed heavily for years are finding that their weak foundations make them particularly vulnerable to global shockwaves.