Pakistan has been availing International Monetary Fund loan packages without stricto sensuo acting upon reforms since late 1980s. Its finance minister is now horn-locked with the International Monetary Fund ferreting out strings, a tangled skein, to a US$ 6 billion to $12 billion bailout package. Pakistan could complete one IMF package that ended in 2016. That too with a number of requirements relaxed.
The thorny questions hovering over the instant package are opaque US$ 60 billion Chinese loans (diversion of IMF dollars to China), trimming unbridled spending, nurturing bloated state-owned corporations, inaction against tax dodgers (low tax-to-Gross Domestic Product ratio), sluggish textile exports (lost out to Bangladesh), and US$7.6 billion debt-stricken energy sector. Besides, current-account and budget gaps have swelled to more than 5 percent of gross domestic product and foreign-currency reserves have plunged to the lowest in almost four years. In response authorities have devalued the rupee five times since December and hiked interest rates the most in Asia. The GDP growth of about 5.2 per cent in 2018 rolled down to 2.9 per cent in 2019 and a further decline to 2.8 in 2020.Inflation jumped from 3.9 per cent in 2018 to over 7.6 per cent in 2019. Already grey listed, Pakistan is fighting tooth and nail to wriggle out of stigma notwithstanding virulent Indian pressure to freeze it so.
Interest-free Medina-model rhetoric
Pakistan had to go to the IMF doorstep despite cricketer-turned-prime minister Imran Khan’s reluctance. He was enamoured of Medina model as every Muslim should. Both Islam and Marxism did away with `interest’ as primum mobile of capital formation. But, Alas! Imran had to wake up about bitter reality of the economic world around. Much to his chagrin, even chairman of Pakistan’s Islamic Ideology Council has warned (October 22, 2018) him against `romanticism’. He urged the government to set up a task force to realize a “Medina State” and suggested the formation of a task force to realize this vision., The whole of Pakistan, with wistful eyes, looks forward to fulfillment of this dream of `new Pakistan’.
We now live in a different world.
Unlike Medina, today’s Pakistan is a complex state. Shortly after his arrival at Medina, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) built a mosque and a market place there. Like the mosque, the market place could not be privatised. There was free entry and exit of traders (akin to perfect competition under micro-economics) and caravans to the market. No monopolies, duopolies and cartels! A section of the market caravanserai was reserved for foreign traders. The whole world could sell their goods there free of any taxes.
Some clever local traders tried to take advantage of robust trade. They used to buy caravan camel loads outside the Medina (before they reached Medina), and sell it at dictated price. Islam outlawed this practice as talaqqiur rukaban (seeing faces of riders). Islam prohibited all types of future trading involving element of uncertainty (advance purchase of raw tree-fruit, fish in the pond, and so on). Islam prohibited usury (riba) in all its forms (loan giving at agreed interest taffazzul, or loan profiting due to delay naseea). When Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) tried to exchange his coarse-quality dates with fine-quality dates the Holy Prophet forbade him. He told him to sell his dates for cash and buy better dates at prevailing price. The Prophet did not live in a 300-kanal-and-10-marla house (like Pakistan’s prime minister). Nor did he, like our numerous politicians, own assets abroad. He bequeathed a dozen swords but no precious metals (Golda Meier). Islam globalized free-market mechanism (laissez faire). It changed attitudes and avaricious mindsets. Being a dominant religion, Islam dictated its own terms of trade.
To fulfil its promises, Pakistan’s government budgeted public-sector development- programme outlay of only Rs. 800 billion for the federation and only Rs 850 billion for the provinces. The government has a Hobson choice. With India, at daggers drawn, could it divert security allocation to welfare? Some writers described Pakistan as a `garrison state’.
For an economic turnaround, Pakistan’s visionary prime minister has to shun rhetoric, and decide upon suitable economic policies. It needs to look at the economic world around, beyond Medina.
Interest outlawed under Pakistan’s constitution
Under preamble to Pak constitution `sovereignty’ belongs to Allah Almighty, not to people themselves as under US constitution. The elected representative can wield authority within defined religious limits. Interest is outlawed under
Article 38 (f) of the Constitution of Pakistan, quoted heretofore _ Article 38 (Promotion of social and economic well-being of the people) The State shall…(f) eliminate riba
as early as possible. The Islamic preamble (Objectives Resolution) was inserted in draft constitution under Pakistan’s prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s influence. Unlike Pakistan’s most `leaders’, Liaquat Ali Khan was financially scrupulous. Aside from his honesty, Liaquat Ali Khan could not foresee he would be the first to sow seeds of religious discord. Jamsheed Marker, in his book Cover Point, observes ` charge against Liaquat was that he moved the Objectives Resolution, which declared Pakistan to be an ‘Islamic State’ (ibid. p. 33)”. Unlike the US and many other secular constitutions, the Objectives Resolution (now Preamble to 1973 Constitution) states `sovereignty belongs to Allah Almighty’. The golden words of the constitution were warped to continue an interest-based economy. We pay interest on our international loans and international transactions. Do we live in an interactive world or in an ivory tower? Isn’t Islamisation old wine in new bottle?
Follow-up to `Interest’ outlawed
The Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan enforced Shariah Governance Regulations 2018. This regulation is follow-up to Article 38 (f) of the Constitution of Pakistan, and Senate’s resolution No. 393 (July 9, 2018) for abolition of riba (usury).
(extortionist interest) and normal interest/profit are indistinguishable. They disallow even saving bank-accounts. They point out that riba is anathema both as `addition’ (taffazzul) and due to `delay'(nas’ee) consequent upon fluctuating purchasing power.
The regulation is welcome but there are unanswered questions about Islamisation of finance in Pakistan. We pay interest on our loans and international transactions. The sheiks put their money in Western banks and earn hefty interest thereon.
Future trading is hub of modern commerce. Yet, it is forbidden under Islam. At International Islamic University, I learned that Islamic law of contract does not even allow advance contracts concerning raw fish, fruit, or anything involving element of `uncertainty’. Islam does not allow even tallaqi-ur-rukbaan (buying camel-loads of goods from caravan before they had reached Madina open-market. Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) forbade Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) to exchange poor-quality dates with superior-quality dates. He was advised to sell off his dates in open market for cash and then buy better-quality dates with money so earned.
Interest-based real world
Complex `interest’-based world
Gnawing reality of complex interest-based economic world has now dawned on the government. To quote a Murphy Law `nothing is as simple as it seems at first’. Pakistan needs to review the whole gamut of its economic structure (feudal lords, industrial robber barons, money launderers, and their ilk) and International Monetary Fund conditions. In his lifetime, even our Holy Prophet had to engage in commercial partnerships with the non-Muslim also.
Even Marx did not live in Utopia. He, also, constantly searched for solutions to the problems of the real world around. Disgusted at the simplistic interpretations of his ideas, he cried in boutade: “If this is Marxism, what is certain is that I am not a Marxist”. Keynese offered panacea of deficit financing with concomitant inflation to swerve 1930-Depression unemployment and stagnation. He also reacted to mis-interpretation of his ideas, saying `I am not a Keynesian’.
Keynesian theories preceded a lot of discussion about Gold Exchange Standard, stable prices. To create more money, deficit financing (paper money) was resorted to. As a result the hydra-headed monster of inflation was unleashed. Keynes believed inflation was a `short run phenomenon typical of a full- employment stagnant economy’. But, it became a long run phenomenon. Keynes postulated `With perfectly free competition, there will always be a strong tendency for wage relates to be so related to demand that everyone is employed at level of full employment’. When Keynes was asked about persistence of inflation (too much money chasing too few goods), he replied `In the long run we are all dead’. Post-Keynesian economists coined the term `stagflation’ to explain the phenomenon. With visible massive joblessness, Pakistan is far from a full-employment economy. The paltry household income has to bear the brunt of forced reduction in purchasing power due to rising price level, or falling rupee value.
We adopted floated exchange rate that ballooned our debt burden. No economist has ever applied his mind to effect, positive or negative, of international debt burden on Pakistan economy. No-one ever visualized even the idea of `odious debts’.
Pak government discourages savings
Keynes postulated savings are equal to investment. But, Pakistan discourage savings and encourage consumerism by reducing profit on saving deposits, and increasing taxes on small savings. Locke and others say government can’t tax without taxpayer’s consent. In Pakistan, the govt. picks people’s pockets through withholding taxes and reduction in National Saving Schemes profits. Even unissued bonds lying in Pakistan’s State Bank vaults are included in each draw. The prizes on such bonds are devoured by State Bank, a body corporate, without buying them. Pakistan’s hidden economy is more than the monetized one. It needs to evolve politico-religious milieu and macro-economic theories that suit our country best. It should promote savings while blocking illegal cash flows by introducing magnetic-card transactions in everyday life.
Pakistan’s burgeoning interest-based debt burden
External Debt in Pakistan increased to US$ 95097 million in the second quarter of 2018 from US$ 91761 million in the first quarter of 2018. External Debt in Pakistan averaged US$ 54065.23 million from 2002 until 2018, reaching an all-time peak of 95097 US$ Million in the second quarter of 2018 from a record low of US$ 33172 million in the third quarter of 2004. International Monetary Fund expects Pakistan’s external debt to climb to US$103 billion by June 2019. Pakistan Government Debt to GDP 1994-2018 presents a dismal picture. Pakistan recorded a government debt equivalent to 67.20 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2017. Government Debt to Gross Domestic Product in Pakistan averaged 69.30 percent from 1994 until 2017. It reached peak of 87.90 percent in 2001 and a record low of 56.40 percent in 2007. Successive Pakistan governments treated loans as free lunches. They never abode by revised Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act. Nor did our State Bank warn them about the dangerous situation. State Bank however passively reported, every Pakistani owed over Rs115, 000 as the country’s burden of total debt and liabilities increased to Rs. 23.14 trillion by the end of December 31, 2016.
Pakistan’s debts not payable being `odious’?
Pakistan’s debt burden has a political tinge. For joining anti-Soviet-Union alliances (South-East Asian Treaty Organisation and Central Treaty Organisation), the USA rewarded Pakistan by showering grants on Pakistan. The grants evaporated into streams of low-interest loan which ballooned as Pakistan complied with forced devaluations or adopted floating exchange rate. Soon, the donors forgot Pakistan’s contribution to break-up of the `Soviet Union’. They used coalition support funds and our debt-servicing liability as `do more’ mantra levers.
Apparently, all Pakistani debts are odious as they were thrust upon praetorian regimes to bring them within anti-Communist (South East Asian Treaty Organisation, Central Treaty Organisation) or anti-`terrorist’ fold. To avoid unilateral refusal of a country to repay odious debts, UN Security Council should ex ante [or ex post] declare which debts are `odious’ (Jayachandaran and Kremer, 2004). Alternatively, the USA should itself write off our `bad’ debts.
But Pakistan and its adversaries are entrapped in a prisoner’s dilemma. The dilemma explains why two completely rational players might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so. .The ` prisoners’ dilemma’ was developed by RAND Corporation scientists Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher and was formalized by Albert W. Tucker, a Princeton mathematician.
No demand raised for forgiveness of `odious debts
Several IMF and US state department delegations visited Pakistan. But, Pakistan could not tell them point-blank about non-liability to service politically-stringed debts. The government’s dilemma in Pakistan is that defence and anti-terrorism outlays (26 per cent) plus debt-service charges leave little in national kitty for welfare. Solution lies in debt forgiveness by donors (James K. Boyce and Madakene O’Donnell(eds.), Peace and the Public Purse.2008. New Delhi. Viva Books p, 251).
Debt forgiveness promotes growth
Debt forgiveness (or relief) helps stabilise weak democracies, though corrupt, despotic and incompetent. Research shows that debt relief promotes economic growth and boosts foreign investment. Sachs (1989) inferred that debt service costs discourage domestic and foreign investment. Kanbur (2000), also, concluded that debt is a drag on private investment.
In fact, economists have questioned justification of paying debts given to prop up a regime congenial to a dominant country. They hold that a nation is not obliged to pay such `odious debts’ (a personal liability) showered upon a praetorian individual (p. 252 ibid.). Legally also, any liability financial or quasi-nonfinancial, contracted under duress, is null and void.
No economist to steer economy
Economics is mumbo jumbo to Pakistan’s finance minister. Renowned economist Atif Mian could not take over as finance minister because of uproar against his Ahmediyya/Qadiani religious belief. In protest, another cabinet-slot nominee Khwaja Asim also regretted to assume office formally (though continuing informal help ).
Pakistan’s economy: Back to basic
Economics remains a match between limited resources vis-à-vis unlimited wants (Lionel Robbins). What are our resources or factors of production (land, labour and socio-economic milieu, capital and organisation)? Through what system these resources could interplay to start capital accumulation (growth/development/technical progress) in our country?
Our agriculture is exposed to vagaries of nature (floods, famines, etc.). Besides, productivity of our agricultural sector is low because of disguised unemployment (farmers produce less as compared to their ilk in advanced countries).
People are shy of investing in productive capacity because they could earn more in marketing and other business lines (even in real estate).
We have to determine optimal balance between public and private sectors. We have to balance constraints of security and welfare.
Manufacturing sector, not agriculture, produced Asian Tigers. Studies reflect that there is
correlation between manufacturing sector and economic development in our country. We need to adopt such polices as make manufacturing primum mobile of our economic development.Let some industries be croissance des fleures and improve some nuclei (one school, one university, one hospital) before expecting to transform the whole country through a magic wand (Waterston, Development Planning: Lesson of Experience).
Lessons for an economic turnaround
We need to realize that economics is a social, an inexact, science, but responsive to dynamic environment. Keynesian post-1930-Great-Depression macro-economic policies understood that unemployment is not due to un- or under-utilised productive capacity. It is due to under-spending and lack of effective demand to buy over-produced goods.
Mega housing project to promote capital formation Pakistan government has announced to build a million houses under Naya Housing Project . The scheme smacks of Ragnar Nurkse (Capital formation in underdeveloped countries). Will effective demand increased through mega housing projects will spill over into increased buying of goods imported from China and other countries?
A faulty project
To solve any problem, its nitty-gritty (features) should be first identified: (a) Shelter-providers are highly stratified. (b) Defence Housing Authority caters for shelter needs of military officers. It strictly adheres to its formula of allotment of flats and plots. But, it excludes `civilians paid out of defence services estimates’ (c) The Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation (and affiliate Pakistan Housing Authority) is supposed to allot plots to retired employees. But, it does not follow the date-of-birth criteria. Now only Grade 22 employees (including judges) get plots. Those in Grade 17 to 21(septuagenarians like me or even octogenarians and nonagenarians) may die without a plot or a flat. (d) The FGEHF misuses hardship clause which favours not so hard-up people. For instance, a Customs collector on deputation to National Accountability Bureau was quickly obliged with a plot. He was allotted plot first and asked to submit illness certificate later (e) It is eerie that FGEHF’s definition of `employees’, now, has infinity as its limit. It includes non-employees like legal fraternity, including Supreme Court Bar Association. (f) According to media reports, the FGEHF reeks of corruption and favouritism. (g) Shelter for general public needs careful study, beyond rhetoric of market demand and supply _ The Korangi Town Project, Lyari Expressway Projects, Khuda Ki Basti, ‘Home Ownership Scheme for the People’(1964), and ‘The National Housing Policy’ 2001.Trusting FGEHF for `naya housing’? `A cat’s a cat and that’s that’. The new government should have the nerve to merge all shelter providers (in khaki and mufti) and devise a national housing policy, instead of focusing on `houses’.
China should change consumerist Pakistan into a productive economy
Let China help expand Pakistan’s manufacturing capacity and thereby reduce unemployment in Pakistan. All policymakers should act in unison. They include policy formulators (prime minister, finance minister, et. al), policy detailers (chief economic adviser, statisticians) and technocrats. The policy-makers should decide upon balance of priority. agriculture or industry, “closed” economy with import substitution, “living within means” and balanced budget or deficit budget. Will increased spending “crowd in” or “crowd out” private investment? Monetary policy objectives and the role of the central bank_ stability of employment and inflation, growth rate, balance-of-payments issues Role of foreign-direct investment and “non-bank financial institutions? Their impact on capital formation, consumption trends, and other macroeconomic aspects.
Technocrats, being apolitical unlike policy formulators, could implement policies single-mindedly. Our precious borrowed dollars should not be frittered away into increased imports.
Pakistan’s economic system?
During Ayub era, capitalist growth had a free hand. That led to rise of 22 nouveau rich families. A university mapped them in `Concentration of wealth and economic power in Pakistan’. Dr. Mahbubul Haq, himself the architect of laissez faire growth strategy, identified his mistakes in `Seven Sins of Economic Planners in Pakistan’. During post-Ayub period, we experimented with Bhutto-brand socialism. Later we embraced Islamic mode of financing mostly by packing old wine in new bottle (PLS sharing for `interest’, modarba, musharika for partnership, so on). At the same time we kept paying debt service and contracting new loans under capitalist international system.
The downtrodden remained so in our Islamic system. The international exploitative capitalist system, on the other hand, delivered goods. Rapid economic growth with substantial amelioration in lot of the common man. Soviet brand collectivism collapsed into oblivion.
Capitalism accepts inequality in incomes as a fait accompli. So do studies by political philosophers like Aristotle, Tacitus, Moska, Michel, Marx, Pareto and C. Wright Mill. Yet, sans uniform health care, education, and other basic facilities to masses, life in Pakistan is more miserable than in the West. Why? Soul searching needed by rulers and ruled alike.
A fetter to Pakistan’s rapid economic growth is debate between radical Islamists (fundamentalists) and liberal reformers The liberals, like Farag Fuda and Abu Zayd (Egypt), read the sources of Islamic sharia in terms of time and place (historical relativism). They advocate reading holy texts in our own terms, interpreting them in accordance with spirit and intentions. The radials (conservatives) regarded the liberals as heretics or apostates. Farag was murdered in 1992 and Abu-Zayd exiled in following years.
The conservatives say `Islam is complete’. The man in the street sees no undisputed Islamic model in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan or anywhere. We `circumcised’ some banking, civil and criminal laws to show case them as Islamic. For instance, we introduced PLS, modarba, musharika. Practically, there was no tangible impact on society, economy or polity. In international aid and trade, we conformed to secular principles. We continued to interest-based loans and pay debt service. Islamic punishments, introduced by Ziaul Haq had questionable impact. Sami Zubaida points out in his book Law and Power in the Islamic World (p. 224), “It is ironic that so-called Islamic punishments are described as `medieval’, when in fact, medieval jurists and judges showed great restraint in their application while modern dictators flaunt them as a religious legitimacy”.
The Islamisation of laws is regarded by critics as hypocritical. Pakistanis have a long list of Constitutional rights. But, a proviso makes them non-enforceable through courts. Pakistan’s qanun-shahadat (evidence law) defines qualifications of a witness (tazkia-tus-shahood). But, it softens its Palladian to accept any witness if the ideal witness is not available. The less said about sadiq and ameen clauses, the better. Under these clauses, even a three time priminister was sacked by Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
A judge has to decide according to law not according to his conscience and divine authority. An example is ban on gambling like circuses by one judge. The decision was turned down on appeal as it is Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, not the court to adjudicate such matter.
Pakistan could not emerge as an Asian tiger because of indecision about what system to follow. The vested interests, particularly religious obscurantists, often smother dissent from so called enlightened moderators. Rampant sectarianism in Pakistan with concomitant effects on economy is an offshoot of lacunae in religious interpretations by vested interests.
Pakistan has abolished interest (riba) in accordance with its fundamental law. Yet its banking sector and international transctions are interest based.
Let Pakistan face the truth. It needs to evolve and show case a politico-economic model of Islam that is compatible with international practices. Or else, dispense with hypocritical patchwork, and go for secularist IMF model.
Covid-19 and food crisis
COVID-19 has hit at a time when food crisis and malnutrition are on the rise. According to the most recent UN projections, the pandemic-induced economic slump would cause as many as 132 million people to be hungry. This would be in addition to the 690 million people going hungry now. At the same time, 135 million people suffer from acute food insecurity and in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Although the pandemic’s transmission has slowed in certain countries and cases have decreased, COVID-19 has resurfaced or is spreading rapidly in others. This is still a global issue that needs a worldwide solution.
This epidemic threatens both lives and livelihoods. COVID-19 has had a wide-ranging and disruptive influence on the agriculture system. We fear a worldwide food crisis unless we act quickly, which may have long-term consequences for hundreds of millions of children and adults. This is mostly due to a lack of food availability — as wages decline, remittances decline, and in certain cases, food prices rise. Food insecurity is increasingly becoming a food production concern in nations that already have high levels of acute food insecurity.
Agriculture continues to serve a reliable and major part in world economy and stability, and it remains the primary source of food, income, and work for rural communities, even in the face of a pandemic. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the agricultural system and sector has been wide-ranging, causing unprecedented uncertainty in global food supply chains, including potential bottlenecks in labor markets, input industries, agriculture production, food processing, transportation and logistics, as well as shifts in demand for food and food services.
The COVID-19 epidemic not only created a new sort of agricultural catastrophe, but it also occurred at a difficult moment for farmers. In most years during the last few years, global commodity output has exceeded demand, resulting in lower prices. In 2013, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) predicted decreased global agricultural output growth due to limited agricultural land development, rising production costs, expanding resource restrictions, and increasing environmental concerns.
An expanding global population remains the main driver of demand growth, although the consumption patterns and projected trends vary across countries in line with their level of income and development. Average per capita food availability is projected to reach about 3,000 kcal and 85 g of protein per day by 2029. Due to the ongoing transition in global diets towards higher consumption of animal products, fats and other foods, the share of staples in the food basket is projected to decline by 2029 for all income groups. In particular, consumers in middle-income countries are expected to use their additional income to shift their diets away from staples towards higher value products. Meanwhile, environmental and health concerns in high-income countries are expected to support a transition from animal-based protein towards alternative sources of protein.
When people suffer from hunger or chronic undernourishment, it means that they are unable to meet their food requirements – consume enough calories to lead a normal, active life – over a prolonged period. This has long-term implications for their future, and continues to present a setback to global efforts to reach Zero Hunger. When people experience crisis-level, acute food insecurity, it means they have limited access to food in the short-term due to sporadic, sudden crises that may put their lives and livelihoods at risk.
However, if people facing crisis-level acute food insecurity get the assistance they need, they will not join the ranks of the hungry, and their situation will not become chronic
It is clear: although globally there is enough food for everyone, too many people are still suffering from hunger. Our food systems are failing, and the pandemic is making things worse.
How Bangladesh became Standout Star in South Asia Amidst Covid-19
Bangladesh, the shining model of development in South Asia, becomes everyone’s economic darling amidst Covid-19. The per capita income of Bangladesh in the fiscal year 2020-21 is higher than that of many neighbouring countries including India and Pakistan. Recently, Bangladesh has agreed to lend $200 million to debt-ridden Sri Lanka to bail out through currency swap. Bangladesh, once one of the most vulnerable economies, has now substantiated itself as the most successful economy of South Asia. How Bangladesh successfully managed Covid-19 and became top performing economy of South Asia?
In March 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared their independence from richer and more powerful Pakistan. The country was born through war and famine. Shortly after the independence of Bangladesh, Henry Kissinger, then the U.S. national security advisor, derisively referred to the country as a “Basket Case of Misery.” But after fifty years, recently, Bangladesh’s Cabinet Secretary reported that per capita income has risen to $2,227. Pakistan’s per capita income, meanwhile, is $1,543. In 1971, Pakistan was 70% richer than Bangladesh; today, Bangladesh is 45% richer than Pakistan. Pakistani economist Abid Hasan, former World Bank Adviser, stated that “If Pakistan continues its dismal performance, it is in the realm of possibility that we could be seeking aid from Bangladesh in 2030,”. On the other hand, India, the economic superpower of South Asia, is also lagging behind Bangladesh in terms of per capita income worth of $1,947. This also elucidates that the economic decisions of Bangladesh are better than that of any other South Asian countries.
Bangladesh’s economic growth leans-on three pillars: exports competitiveness, social progress and fiscal prudence. Between 2011 and 2019, Bangladesh’s exports grew at 8.6% every year, compared to the world average of 0.4%. This godsend is substantially due to the country’s hard-hearted focus on products, such as apparel, in which it possesses a comparative advantage.
The variegated investment plans pursued by the Bangladesh government contributes to the escalation of the country’s per capita income. The government has attracted investments in education, health, connectivity and infrastructure both from home and abroad. As a long-term implication, investing in these sectors helped Bangladesh to facilitate space for businesses and created skilled manpower to run them swiftly. Meanwhile, the share of Bangladeshi women in the labor force has consistently grown, unlike in India and Pakistan, where it has decreased. And Bangladesh has maintained a public debt-to-GDP ratio between 30% and 40%. India and Pakistan will both emerge from the pandemic with public debt close to 90% of GDP.
Bangladesh’s economy and industry management strategy during Covid-19 is also worth mentioning here since the country till now has successfully protected its economy from impact of pandemic. At the outset of pandemic, lockdowns and restrictions hampered the country’s overall productivity for a while. To tackle the pandemic effect, Bangladesh introduced improvised monetary policy and fiscal stimuli to bring them under the safety net which lifted the situation from worsening. Government introduced stimulus package which is equivalent to 4.3 percent of total GDP and covers all necessary sectors such as industry, SMEs and agriculture. These packages are not only a one-time deal, new packages are also being announced in course of time. For instance, in January 2021, government announced two new packages for small and medium entrepreneurs and grass roots populations. Apart from economic interventions, the government also chose the path of targeted interventions. The government, after first wave, abandoned widespread lockdown and adopted the policy of targeted intervention which is found to be effective as it allows socio-economic activities to carry on under certain protocols and helps the industries to fight back against the pandemic effect.
Another pivotal key to success was the management of migrant labor force and keeping the domestic production active amidst the pandemic. According to KNOMAD report, amidst the Covid-19, Bangladesh’s remittance grew by 18.4 percent crossing 21 billion per annum inflow where many remittance dependent countries experienced negative growth rate. Because of the massive inflow of remittance, the Forex reserve of Bangladesh reached at 45.1 billion US dollar.
Bangladesh’s success in managing COVID19 and its economy has been reflected in a recent report “Bangladesh Development Update- Moving Forward: Connectivity and Logistics to strengthen Competitiveness,” published by World Bank. Bangladesh’s economy is showing nascent signs of recovery backed by a rebound in exports, strong remittance inflows, and the ongoing vaccination program. Through financial assistance to Sri Lanka and Covid relief aid to India, Bangladesh is showcasing its rise as an emerging superpower in South Asia. That is why Mihir Sharma, Director of Centre for Economy and Growth Programme at the Observer Research Foundation, wrote in an article at Bloomberg that, “Today, the country’s 160 million-plus people, packed into a fertile delta that’s more densely populated than the Vatican City, seem destined to be South Asia’s standout success”. Back in 2017, PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) report also predicted the same that Bangladesh will become the largest economy by 2030 and an economic powerhouse in South Asia. And this is how Bangladesh, a development paragon, offers lessons for the other struggling countries of world after 50 years of its independence.
Build Back Better World: An Alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative?
The G7 Summit is all the hype on the global diplomatic canvas. While the Biden-Putin talk is another awaited juncture of the Summit, the announcement of an initiative has wowed just as many whilst irked a few. The Group of Seven (G7) partners: the US, France, the UK, Canada, Italy, Japan, and Germany, launched a global infrastructure initiative to meet the colossal infrastructural needs of the low and middle-income countries. The Project – Build Back Better World (B3W) – is aimed to be a partnership between the most developed economies, namely the G7 members, to help narrow the estimated $40 trillion worth of infrastructure needed in the developing world. However, the project seems to be directed as a rival to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Amidst sharp criticism posed against the People’s Republic during the Summit, the B3W initiative appears to be an alternative multi-lateral funding program to the BRI. Yet, the developing world is the least of the concerns for the optimistic model challenging the Asian giant.
While the B3W claims to be a highly cohesive initiative, the BRI has expanded beyond comprehension and would be extremely difficult to dethrone, even when some of the most lucrative economies of the world are joining heads to compete over the largely untapped potential of the region. Now let’s be fair and contest that neither the G7 nor China intends the welfare of the region over profiteering. However, China enjoys a headstart. The BRI was unveiled back in 2013 by president Xi Jinping. The initiative was projected as a transcontinental long-term policy and investment program aimed to consolidate infrastructural development and gear economic integration of the developing countries falling along the route of the historic Silk Road.
The highly sophisticated project is a long-envisioned dream of China’s Communist Party; operating on the premise of dominating the networks between the continents to establish unarguable sovereignty over the regional economic and policy decision-making. Referring to the official outline of the BRI issued by China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the BRI drives to: “Promote the connectivity of Asian, European, and African continents and their adjacent seas, establish and strengthen partnerships among the countries along the Belt and Road [Silk Road], set up all-dimensional, multi-tiered and composite connectivity networks and realize diversified, independent, balanced, and sustainable development in these countries”. The excerpt clearly amplifies the thought process and the main agenda of the BRI. On the other hand, the B3W simply stands as a superfluous rival to an already outgrowing program.
Initially known as One Belt One Road (OBOR), the BRI has since expanded in the infrastructural niche of the region, primarily including emerging markets like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The standout feature of the BRI has been the mutually inclusive nature of the projects, that is, the BRI has been commandeering projects in many of the rival countries in the region yet the initiative manages to keep the projects running in parallel without any interference or impediment. With a loose hold on the governance whilst giving a free hand to the political and social realities of each specific country, the BRI program presents a perfect opportunity to jump the bandwagon and obtain funding for development projects without undergoing scrutiny and complications. With such attractive nature of the BRI, the program has significantly grown over the past decade, now hosting 71 countries as partners in the initiative. The BRI currently represents a third of the world’s GDP and approximately two-thirds of the world’s entire population.
Similar to BRI, the B3W aims to congregate cross-national and regional cooperation between the countries involved whilst facilitating the implementation of large-scale projects in the developing world. However, unlike China, the G7 has an array of problems that seem to override the overly optimistic assumption of B3W being the alternate stream to the BRI.
One major contention in the B3W model is the facile assumption that all 7 democracies have an identical policy with respect to China and would therefore react similarly to China’s policies and actions. While the perspective matches the objective of BRI to promote intergovernmental cooperation, the G7 economies are much more polar than the democracies partnered with China. It is rather simplistic to assume that the US and Japan would have a similar stance towards China’s policies, especially when the US has been in a tense trade war with China recently while Japan enjoyed a healthy economic relation with Xi’s regime. It would be a bold statement to conclude that the US and the UK would be more cohesively adjoined towards the B3W relative to the China-Pakistan cooperation towards the BRI. Even when we disregard the years-long partnership between the Asian duo, the newfound initiative would demand more out of the US than the rest of the countries since each country is aware of the tense relations and the underlying desperation that resulted in the B3W program to shape its way in the Summit.
Moreover, the B3W is timed in an era when Europe has seen its history being botched over the past year. Post-Brexit, Europe is exactly the polar opposite of the unified policy-making glorified in the B3W initiate. The European Union (EU), despite US reservations, recently signed an investment deal with China. A symbolic gesture against the role played by former US President Donald J. Trump to bolster the UK’s exit from the Union. As London tumbles into peril, it would rather join hands with China as opposed to the democrat-regime of the US to prevent isolation in the region. Despite US opposition, Germany – Europe’s largest economy – continues to place China as a key market for its Automobile industry. Such a divided partnership holds no threat to the BRI, especially when the partners are highly dependent on China’s market and couldn’t afford an affront to China’s long envisaged initiative.
Even if we assume a unified plan of action shared between the G7 countries, the B3W would fall short in attracting the key developing countries of the region. The main targets of the initiative would naturally be the most promising economies of Asia, namely India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh. However, the BRI has already encapsulated these countries: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIMEC) being two of the core 6 developmental corridors of BRI.
While both the participatory as well as the targeted democracies would be highly cautious in supporting the B3W over BRI, the newfound initiate lacks the basic tenets of a lasting project let alone standing rival to the likes of BRI. The B3W is aimed to be domestically funded through USAID, EXIM, and other similar programs. However, a project of such complex nature involves investments from diverse funding channels. The BRI, for example, tallies a total volume of roughly USD 4 to 8 trillion. However, the BRI is state-funded and therefore enjoys a variety of funding routes including BRI bond flotation. The B3W, however, simply falls short as up until recently, the large domestic firms and banks in the US have been pushed against by the Biden regime. An accurate example is the recent adjustment of the global corporate tax rate to a minimum of 15% to undercut the power of giants like Google and Amazon. Such strategies would make it impossible for the United States and its G7 counterparts to gain multiple channels of funding compared to the highly leveraged state-backed companies in China.
Furthermore, the B3W’s competitiveness dampens when conditionalities are brought into the picture. On paper, the B3W presents humane conditions including Human Rights preservation, Climate Change, Rule of Law, and Corruption prevention. In reality, however, the targeted countries are riddled with problems in all 4 categories. A straightforward question would be that why would the developing countries, already hard-pressed on funds, invest to improve on the 4 conditions posed by the B3W when they could easily continue to seek benefits from a no-strings-attached funding through BRI?
The B3W, despite being a highly lucrative and prosperous model, is idealistic if presented as a competition to the BRI. Simply because the G7, majorly the United States, elides the ground realities and averts its gaze from the labyrinth of complex relations shared with China. The only good that could be achieved is if the B3W manages to find its own unique identity in the region, separate from BRI in nature and not rivaling the scale of operation. While Biden has remained vocal to assuage the concerns regarding the B3W’s aim to target the trajectory of the BRI, the leaders have remained silent over the detailed operations of the model in the near future. For now, the B3W would await bipartisan approval in the United States as the remaining partners would develop their plan of action. Safe to say, for now, that the B3W won’t hold a candle to the BRI in the long-run but could create problems for the G7 members if it manages to irk China in the Short-run.
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