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Debt-stricken Sri Lanka signs trade pact with Thailand as it seeks ‘recovery’

Debt-stricken Sri Lanka has signed a trade pact with Thailand in a bid to boost trade and investment as the Indian Ocean island nation struggles to recover from its worst economic crisis that hit two years ago.

The Sri Lanka Thailand Free Trade Agreement covering trade in goods, investment, custom procedures and intellectual property rights was signed in the capital Colombo on Saturday in the presence of Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

Sri Lanka began talks with Thailand on a free-trade agreement in 2016.

The countries’ two-way trade was worth about US$352 million in 2022, with Thailand’s exports at US$292 million and Sri Lanka’s exports at US$58 million, according to Sri Lankan government’s data.

Sri Lanka exports include mainly precious stones, apparel, tea and spices, while exports from Thailand include smoked rubber sheets, natural rubber, plastic and cement. Sri Lanka’s government expects the trade pact would boost two-way trade up to US$1.5 billion.

Thavisin said the countries agreed to promote investment in areas such as fisheries, food processing, tourism and green energy. Thailand has made over US$92 million in direct investment in Sri Lanka from 2005 to 2022.

Giving further boost to tourism, Thavisin said that Thailand’s flag carrier Thai Airways would resume daily flights from Bangkok to Sri Lanka next month.

Sri Lanka has been struggling with an economic crisis since declaring bankruptcy in April 2022 with more than US$83 billion in debt, more than half of it to foreign creditors. The crisis led to protests that ousted then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine have largely abated over the past year under Wickremesinghe. But public