Sri Lanka has cut back on imports of slot farm chemicals, cars and even its staple spice turmeric as its foreign exchange reserves dwindle, hindering its ability to repay a mountain of debt as the South Asian island nation struggles to recover from the pandemic.
Toothbrush handles, venetian blinds, strawberries, vinegar, wet wipes and sugar are among the hundreds of foreign-made goods that were banned or made subject to special licensing requirements meant to chip away at a trade deficit that has been deepening the country's financial quandary for years.
Shortages are pushing prices higher for many consumer goods, from bread to construction materials to gasoline, triggering protests among Sri Lankans fed up with the prolonged crisis.
Thusitha Vipulanayake ran out of motorcycles to sell in August 2020. Usually able to sell at least 30 a month, and a dozen motorized trishaws, he now gets by selling bottled, locally grown turmeric paste and LED lightbulbs.
“This is something we never expected," Vipulanayake said as he sat at his empty motorcycle showroom along a road outside the capital Colombo.
Sri Lanka was in trouble before the pandemic struck, laying low a tourism industry that is a vital source of foreign exchange earnings. It normally provides jobs for more than 3 million people and accounts for about 5 per cent of GDP.
Visitors already were staying away after deadly suicide bombings on Easter Day 2019 killed more than 250 people. But efforts to revive the industry are falling flat as the country endures another wave of COVID-19 infections.