The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday said Sri Lanka had secured financing assurances from all its major bilateral creditors, paving the way for the IMF board to consider approval of a long-awaited 2.9 billion U.S. dollars four-year bailout.
The IMF said its board will meet on March 20 to review a preliminary staff-level agreement first signed in September, offering a lifeline to the South Asian country which faces its worst financial crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.
Approval is expected as the board generally does not put items on its agenda unless its members are ready to act. Sri Lanka would get access to the first tranche of money shortly after board approval, sources close to the talks said.
"Sri Lanka has now received financing assurances from all major bilateral creditors," Krishna Srinivasan, director of the IMF's Asia and Pacific Department (APD) said in a statement.
"This paves the way for consideration by the IMF's Board on March 20 the approval of the Staff Level Agreement reached on September 1, 2022 for financing under an Extended Fund Facility," Srinivasan added.
The sources said China's EXIM had provided a second letter offering "specific and credible" financing assurances for Sri Lanka's debt restructuring with a specific link to the IMF program, and clear language on debt sustainability, meeting the IMF's requirements for moving forward.
The letter and funding should be released shortly after the March 20 board date, the sources said, without providing details.
They said China had generally been more constructive in the process in recent weeks after IMF and Sri Lankan officials underscored the urgency, given prospects for social unrest amid high inflation and big shortages of food and fuel.
Tuesday's announcement comes days after the IMF praised Sri Lanka's surprise decision on March 3 to raise interest rates and move toward a market-determined exchange rate as evidence of a commitment to reducing inflation and enacting reforms.
Sri Lanka, which has been facing shortages of food, fuel and medicines, has been waiting for more than 180 days for approval of the loan, mostly due to IMF concerns over the quality of the initial financing assurances offered by China and other bilateral creditors, and its insistence on painful reforms.
Central bank Governor P. Nandalal Weerasinghe said last week that Sri Lanka had fulfilled its conditions with the rate hike and he was hopeful the IMF bailout would be approved this month.
The IMF said the board's approval would help catalyze financing from other creditors, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
(With input from Reuters)