Wimal Weerawansa

Minister of Industry Wimal Weerawansa repeats misconception on export earnings


For the first time since the open economy was introduced in 1977 by J.R. Jayawardena, the country’s export earnings exceeded import expenditure.

Mawbima | July 13, 2020



Fact Check

Minister Weerawansa here is possibly repeating a claim about trade data in June 2020 that has also been separately carried in the media. To evaluate this claim, FactCheck looked at Sri Lanka’s monthly and annual import and export data as reported by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL).

The CBSL’s Special Statistical Appendix provides external sector data about imports and exports. It shows that since 1977 Sri Lanka has not had an annual net exports surplus—where export earnings are greater than import expenditure. Monthly data available from 2006 to 2019 shows that there is no month in which export earnings exceeded import expenditure.

Contrary to the claim that is being repeated by the minister, in 2020 as well, just as in the past, monthly data from January to June shows that total export earnings have not exceeded total import expenditure (see Exhibit 1).

Therefore, we classify this claim, repeated by Minister Weerawansa, as FALSE.

*FactCheck’s verdict is based on the most recent information that is publicly accessible. As with every fact check, if new information becomes available, FactCheck will revisit the assessment.

View the full statement at: https://bit.ly/2ErHkHU [last accessed: 28 August 2020]

Time stamp: 1:44:51

Exhibit 1: Net exports for January to June 2020 (USD millions)

Right of Response:

Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa responds to FactCheck.lk

The industries Ministers Media secretary has sent the following response to the FactCheck published on page 1 of Daily Mirror on August 27:

The FactCheck featured in your newspaper had been compiled using a news report published in the Mawbima newspaper of 13. 07. 2020 using a statement made by Minister Wimal Weerawansa. However, it only contained a portion of the statement made by the Minister.

It had only quoted the section that said: “For the first time since J. R. Jayewardene introduced the open economy in 1977, the country’s export income has surpassed the import expenditure.” The main fact presented by Minister Weerawansa to make his point has been omitted by the compilers of the FactCheck. That is: “It has been recorded in the last 30 days, that the export income has been USD 1020 million and import expense as USD 961 million. This is the production economy we expect.” They had omitted this fact and compared the export earning and import expenses between January and June 2020 to show that he had made a false statement.

Also since August 2009, Sri Lanka has had the lowest trade deficit in June 2020, which is USD 161 million according to the Central Bank statistics.

FactCheck.lk’s response to Minister Weerawansa:

FactCheck.lk appreciates the response of the Ministry of Industries and Minister Weerawansa.

In his statement, Minister of Industries Wimal Weerawansa made reference to a trade surplus being achieved resulting from exports of USD 1,020 million and imports of USD 961 million. This claim was published by the Mawbima newspaper on 13 July and incorrectly reports that the minister’s reference is to July 2020 data. However, in the video of the event at which the statement was made, published on Minister Weerawansa’s official Facebook page on 11 July, he specifically refers to June (available at: https://bit.ly/2ErHkHU, time stamp: 1:44:51). Accordingly, his statement was fact checked against official trade data for the month of June 2020, which is the latest available data. Official trade data for June 2020 as reported by the Central Bank in its June 2020 External Sector Performance report indicates exports of USD 894 million and imports of USD 1,055 million, which is a trade deficit of USD 161 million and not a trade surplus.

In response to this fact check, the Ministry of Industries initially repeats the erroneous figures (exports of USD 1,020 million and imports of USD 961 million) claimed by the minister. The ministry subsequently contradicts itself by correctly referencing Central Bank data to state that Sri Lanka had a trade deficit of USD 161 million for June 2020 thus recognising that Sri Lanka did not have a trade surplus in June 2020.

In light of the above, there is no additional information that has been received to consider updating the verdict of the FactCheck. Therefore, we retain our classification of Minister Weerawansa’s statement as FALSE.