Sri Lanka declares economic emergency to contain food prices amid forex crisis

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A general view of the main business district as rain clouds gather above in Colombo, Sri Lanka, November 17, 2020. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

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COLOMBO, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka has declared an economic emergency empowering the authorities to seize stocks of staple foods and set their prices, to contain soaring inflation after a steep devaluation of its currency due to a foreign exchange crisis.

The president of the island nation, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on Monday declared an emergency under the public security ordinance to maintain the supply of food items such as sugar and rice at fair prices. The emergency came into effect from midnight.

The government has appointed a former army general as commissioner of essential services, who will have the power to seize food stocks held by traders and retailers and regulate their prices.

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"The authorised officers will be able to take steps to provide essential food items at concessionary rate to the public by purchasing stocks of essential food items including paddy, rice and sugar," according to a press statement issued by Gotabaya's media division.

"These items will be provided at government guaranteed prices or based on the customs value on imported goods to prevent market irregularities," the statement said.

Sri Lanka's Department of Census and Statistics said the increase in the foreign exchange rate was one of the reasons behind rising prices of many essential items over the last 12 months.

Month-on-month inflation in August rose to 6% from 5.7% in July, mainly due to high food prices, the department said.

Sri Lanka, a net importer of food and other commodities, is witnessing a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths which has hit tourism, one of its main foreign currency earners.

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Reporting by Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo Writing by Aditi Shah Editing by Peter Graff

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