Exports of tea, the island's main commodity export, went up 1.8 percent to 108.4 million dollars as the industry recovered from the effects of severe drought earlier in the year.
" . . despite the adverse impact of the global economic crisis, exports of textiles and garments, which accounted for about 50 percent of Sri Lanka’s exports, recorded an increase for the third consecutive month," the central bank said.in its monthly statement on the country's trade performance.
"Textiles and garments exports grew by 6.0 percent in March 2009 to 310 million US dollars, largely due to the measures taken by the government and the industry to adapt to the global economic circumstances."
The government has reduced energy costs and promised support for exporters who maintain employment levels.
The central bank said that while textiles and garments exports to the European Union grew by 18.4 percent in March 2009, those to the US declined by 4.5 percent.
Exports of the food, beverages and tobacco also increased while others, including rubber based products, fell during the month compared with the year before.
"Agricultural exports, which declined continuously over the past four months, grew marginally to record year-on-year earnings of 154 million US dollars in March 2009, led by the tea and coconut exports," the central bank said.
The volume of exports of tea, rubber and coconut has increased in March 2009 compared to the corresponding period of the previous year, and tea prices increased in March from the previous month.
"Prices at the Colombo tea auction continue to hold its position as the highest among the major auction centres of the world," the central bank statement said.
Cumulative export earnings fell by 12.6 percent during the first quarter to 1,642 million US dollars in 2009 from 1,878 million US dollars in 2008.
Imports in March 2009 fell 11.8 percent to 1,009 million US dollars, the central bank also said.
As a result, the island's trade deficit contracted for the third consecutive month in March 2009 as imports continued to decelerate faster than exports.
The trade deficit narrowed by 17.6 percent in March 2009 to 383 million US dollars from a year ago.
The central bank said imports fell because of the reduced demand for imports of consumer and intermediate goods.
Consumer goods declined by 24.3 percent to 209 million US dollars in March 2009.
Among the major food commodity imports, expenditure on rice, wheat and milk decreased in March 2009, while expenditure on sugar imports increased during the month, reflecting the 22.4 percent increase in the average import price.
"The international prices of sugar have increased in recent times in view of the tightening world wide sugar supplies amid lower production in some major sugar producing countries," the central bank said.
Spending on motor vehicles declined by 65 percent and spending on electrical household equipment also declined in March 2009.
Expenditure on intermediate goods declined by 23.8 percent in March 2009 to 475 million US dollars.
The fall was led by petroleum imports, which accounted for nearly 40 percent of intermediate goods, as crude oil prices continued to hover around 47 US dollars per barrel.
"Expenditure on fertilizer imports has declined significantly by 62.9 percent to 9 million US dollars, as prices have declined by 31.8 percent and the fertilizer requirement for the 'yala' (minor) season had already been imported."
Expenditure on investment goods, on the other hand, increased by 29.5 percent in March 2009 to 312 million US dollars in March 2009, owing to the significant increases in expenditure on transport equipment and building materials."The substantial increase in imports of investment goods is an early indicator of the faster recovery in economic growth in the near future," the central bank said.
The cumulative expenditure on imports decreased by 30.3 percent to 2,287 million US dollars by end-March 2009.
The cumulative trade deficit halved to 645 million US dollars in the first quarter of 2009 from 1,401 million US dollars in the corresponding period in 2008.
Remittances from migrant workers were at their highest ever value of 278 million US dollars in March 2009, up 5.4 percent from a year ago, the central bank said.
But remittances in the first quarter were down 1.7 percent to 774 million US dollars from 787 million US dollars in the corresponding period of 2008.
The central bank said remittances during the first quarter were 129 million US dollars or about 20 percent in excess of the trade deficit.