Sri Lanka is Australia’s 41st largest trading partner. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted bilateral trade in 2020. Total goods and services trade amounted to $1.7 billion in 2019-20, the same as 2018-19. Exports of goods and services totalled $1.1 billion, consisting mostly of education and vegetables and tourism prior to the pandemic. Imports from Sri Lanka amounted to $575 million, made up of mostly of clothing, textiles, tea and tourism.
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated international travel restrictions disproportionately hurt services trade in 2020. Ongoing international travel restrictions points to another challenging year for services exports in 2021. Before the pandemic, Sri Lankan students studying in Australia had been increasing significantly from a low level. Australia received 16,000 student enrolments in 2020, holding steady from 2019. Many Australian education providers operate in Sri Lanka, including Monash University, the Australian College of Business and Technology and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology all offer distance learning programs in Sri Lanka.
As in education, Sri Lanka had been a growing market for Australian tourism prior to the pandemic. The launch of direct flights between the two countries in 2017 further boosted Sri Lankan demand for Australian tourism; more than 40,000 Sri Lankans visited Australia in 2018 and 2019 before the pandemic cut arrivals in 2020.
Bilateral investment between Sri Lanka and Australia remains small. Australian aid to Sri Lanka is estimated at $22.7 million in 2020-21, equivalent to about 0.5% of the aid budget. Australia’s development program will support Sri Lanka’s efforts to enhance health security, stability and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.