NEW DELHI/COLOMBO, Jan 25 (Reuters): The Export-Import Bank of China has offered Sri Lanka a two-year moratorium on its debt and said it will support the country's efforts to secure a $2.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, according to a letter reviewed by Reuters.
Regional rivals China and India are the biggest bilateral lenders to Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people that is facing its worst economic crisis in seven decades.
India wrote to the IMF earlier this month, saying it would commit to supporting Sri Lanka with financing and debt relief, but the island nation also needs the backing of China in order to reach a final agreement with the global lender.
However, China's Jan. 19 letter, sent to the finance ministry, may not be enough for Sri Lanka to immediately gain the IMF's approval for the critical loan, a Sri Lankan source with knowledge of the matter said.
According to the letter, China EximBank said it was going to provide "an extension on the debt service due in 2022 and 2023 as an immediate contingency measure" based on Sri Lanka's request.
At the end of 2020, China EximBank had loaned Sri Lanka $2.83 billion which is 3.5 per cent of the island's debt, according to an IMF report released in March last year.
"You will not have to repay the principal and interest due of the bank's loans during the above-mentioned period," the letter said.
"Meanwhile, we would like to expedite the negotiation process with your side regarding medium and long-term debt treatment in this window period."
Sri Lanka owed Chinese lenders $7.4 billion, or nearly a fifth of its public external debt, by the end of last year, calculations by the China Africa Research Initiative showed.
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