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The Impolitic Economic Policies of Pakistan

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The season of rate hikes and policy tightening is in full swing around the globe. The latest 50 basis point hike by the Federal Reserve jolted emerging economies as investors rushed across the Atlantic. Now, with subsequent similar increments planned throughout this year, the federal funds rate – the overnight interbank borrowing rate – is likely to climb above 2% by the year-end. Naturally, developing economies are following suit to prevent the egress of foreign investment and ease the bite of inflation cruising the surge in the US dollar. Pakistan is no different as it continues to chase stability in an inherently unstable environment. The conflicting geopolitical variables, internal political drama, and illogical economic policies – a confluence of these factors is pushing Pakistan into the abyss. Nonetheless, misery is avoidable if prudent policies get implemented – and fast!

The recent decision by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to hike the benchmark interest rate by 150 basis points to an 11-year high of 13.75% is wielding a mixed impact. On a positive note, the decision is in-line with the market expectations predicted by expert economists. Thus, the markets have already adapted to the announcement – avoiding consequent volatility. Moreover, the rate hike is a central step to harness inflation – spiking to a 30-month high of 13.8% in May. Nonetheless, the SBP has increased the policy rate cumulatively by 675 basis points since September 2021. Still, inflation has lingered in double figures – climbing from 11.5% in November to 13.4% in April. While it is premature to claim that a hawkish policy is radically futile, tightening interest rates is not enough to grapple with the existing economic woes.

The searing inflationary pressure in Pakistan is mainly due to the geopolitical tensions in Europe. The Russian invasion and the retaliatory sanctions from the West have rilled the global commodity markets. Russia and Ukraine (combined) account for almost 30% of the global wheat supply. The Ukrainian seaports in the Black Sea – currently blockaded by Russian forces – are crucial to worldwide exports. And containment measures inflicted on the Russian economy are fanning prices of staple commodities like wheat, corn, and seed oils. Even global reluctance to trade with Russia – one of the biggest energy suppliers in the world – has bumped crude and gas prices into the abnormal territory. Cargoes of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) – initially bound for Asia – have redirected to Europe to replace millions of tonnes of gas imported from Russia. And as I’m writing this article, the Brent benchmark is rallying over $120/barrel – up from around $60/barrel last year. As a result, inflation in Europe has breached 9% year-on-year while the Consumer Price Index (CPI) measured US inflation clocked at a four-decade high of 8.4% in April. As LNG trades at a premium and crude prices continue to persist in triple figures, how can Pakistan – an energy importing nation – evade the brunt of imported inflation?

Pakistan’s import bill is weighted heavily apropos of petroleum imports – constituting roughly 25% of the total outflows. Imported furnace oil makes up about 31% of Pakistan’s energy mix crucial for electricity production. The sky-high fuel prices have already pushed the oil and petroleum import bill over $20 billion for the first ten months of the current fiscal year – more than double compared to the same period in 2021. With no sign of easing tensions in Ukraine, and Europe discussing options to impose an embargo on Russian energy imports, Pakistan’s trade deficit is likely to breach the $50 billion marker by the culmination of this fiscal year. Yet, growing exports and record-high remittances have allowed breathing room to the current account balance – currently hovering at a deficit of $14 billion. Curiously, excluding oil and petroleum imports, the Current Account recorded a surplus for the second consecutive month in April. Hence, the rapid depletion of the forex reserves held by the central bank – standing near $10 billion – is predominantly due to the oil payments made to the international market. Given the unfortunate context currently hosting inflation, how can a rate hike ease the price pressure? How can we expect to dilute inflation without even addressing a resolution to energy-import-driven inflation? And why is the focus on demand-side policies and not supply-side variables?

Demand-side policies are casting a contrarian effect on the economic stability of Pakistan. Unlike the United States, Pakistan is a developing economy that thrives on growing consumption, investment, and industrialization. While many analysts believe that a nearly 6% growth rate is unsustainable in the presence of macroeconomic imbalances, demand-curbing policies without supporting guidance are detrimental to export growth. The policy rate, for instance, is already abnormally high compared to the regional economies of India and Bangladesh. A persistent (and unnecessary reliance) on monetary policy has made credit costs unaffordable for the business community of Pakistan. Competing for international orders in markets – such as apparel or leather – now adds an artificial burden on domestic exporters. Naturally, prohibitive credit costs would put Pakistani exporters at a competitive disadvantage against regional rivals – especially in the markets with homogenous products. Ultimately, Pakistan risks losing international standing in growing markets or compromising on quality to maintain a competitive price-cost parity – both could plunge the export revenue of Pakistan. Moreover, as over 90% of Pakistan’s imports are essential goods, they been historically price inelastic. Thus, a high policy rate threatens to plummet export proceeds instead – further widening the trade deficit.

Additionally, the high policy rate continues denting the government budget due to heavy domestic borrowing. Almost 75% of commercial deposits have been lent to the government of Pakistan via recurrent auctions of T-bills and Pakistan Investment Bonds (PIBs). The SBP has been restricted from directly funding budgetary support to the government under the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Amendment Act 2021. Yet, the central bank has continued to provide trillions of rupees in liquidity to commercial banks through longer-tenure Open Market Operations (OMOs) – indirectly financing the cash-strapped regime. During his 45-month stint in office, former Prime Minister Imran Khan accumulated record borrowings worth Rs 21 trillion. With the IMF program on hold and multilateral lenders eyeing prospects of resumption on the sidelines, the government is again turning to commercial banks. However, the yields (traditionally settling at a 1% to 2% spread from the benchmark rate) are exorbitant. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), the yield on three-month T-bills stands at 14.3% in the secondary market, while six-month and twelve-month T-bills yield 14.5% and 14.6%, respectively. Hence, high policy rates and excessive OMOs are inadvertently ballooning the budget deficit – already hovering at Rs 5.6 trillion – via excessive interest payments.

Fortunately, the political chaos is settling after months of uncertainty, and fuel prices are inching towards reality. However, the Rupee is still trading near record-low in the interbank market – sustaining high import costs. Meanwhile, completely eliminating petroleum subsidies could likely push inflation to 18% by the end of this fiscal year. Banning about three dozen luxury imports is the latest step towards progress. However, it is merely a populist move as luxury goods accounted for only 1% of the total import bill of Pakistan. Thus, more stringent measures are needed to stabilize the economy. Pakistan’s Eurobonds have lost almost one-third of their value in the secondary market. And according to Dr. Khaqan Hasan Najeeb, the finance ministry’s former adviser, Pakistan’s default risk – measured by the Credit Default Swap (CDS) – has spiked to over 1,549 on the global index. Pakistan is scheduled to make repayments worth $4.5 billion on maturing global bonds in June. Unless the IMF resumes the $6 billion loan program, international borrowing is beyond approach for Pakistan. Commercial borrowing is also edging its limit as Pakistan cannot afford to borrow at existing yields. Thus, approaching multilateral and bilateral lenders is the only available option in the short run.

In the long run, supply-side reforms are the need of the hour. Currency swaps with China could hedge Pakistan’s sensitivity to sharp movements in the US dollar. National oil refineries should be upgraded to enhance their throughput and reduce the burden on the import bill. Meanwhile, the policy rate should get lowered to allow the export-oriented industries to grow and mitigate the trade imbalance. Ultimately – sensible, independent, and complimenting monetary and fiscal policies are pivitol to channel Pakistan through the choppy waters of uncertainty currently upending the global economy.

The author is a political and economic analyst. He focuses on geopolitical policymaking and international affairs. Syed has written extensively on fintech economy, foreign policy, and economic decision making of the Indo-Pacific and Asian region.

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Another Sri Lanka?: Pakistan’s Economic Crisis

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Pakistan’s Finance Minister, Miftah Ismail warned of “bad days” ahead as he highlighted the looming economic crisis that the nation finds itself in. Addressing a ceremony at the Pakistan Stock Exchange, the Finance Minister blamed the economic policies taken by the erstwhile Tehreek-e-Insaf government for the dire economic state of the country.

A Nation in Crisis

Pakistan’s foreign-exchange reserves have shrunk by more than half in the past year, to just over $9 billion, or about six weeks’ worth of imports. In 2022, the Pakistani rupee has lost about 30 percent of its value against the US dollar. Furthermore, a rise in inflation and unemployment coupled with political instability has only made matters worse. The three major global rating agencies, Moody’s, Fitch, and S&P Global have downgraded Pakistan’s long-term rating from stable to negative, citing the country’s deteriorating economic position.

The current Pakistani government has blamed former Prime Minister Imran Khan for much of its economic woes. These accusations are not entirely unfounded. While he promised to rid Pakistan of its economic troubles, Mr. Khan failed to deliver. His regime saw an increased rate of inflation and widespread economic mismanagement. By March 2022, the country’s total external debt and liabilities reached $128 billion. Unemployment also surged with Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) reporting 31% of the youth to be unemployed. The sudden dissolution of his government added fat to the fire, leading to political instability amid grave economic troubles. However, with a tenure of less than five years, blaming Imran Khan for all of Pakistan’s economic troubles seems far-fetched. Undoubtedly, the economy suffered under the Khan administration but this crisis stems from a much larger flawed system.

Economic Fault Lines

There are various structural flaws that can be located in the Pakistani economy that have time and again led to its unmaking.

The Khan administration is not solely responsible for the ongoing debt crisis. The IMF has provided loans to Pakistan on twenty-two occasions since 1958, imposing 13 Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP). The focus of these programmes has been to stabilise the economy while sacrificing growth in the short term. However, Pakistan’s growth rate has consistently remained the lowest in South Asia since the introduction of the first SAP in 1988. The sustainability and feasibility of these IMF bailouts have also been brought into question considering the frequent visits Pakistan makes to the IMF requesting for bailouts. For instance, the last bailout Pakistan requested was in May 2019, just three years before the current crisis. Furthermore, the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) created a debt of $64 billion for Islamabad which was originally valued at $47 billion in 2014. The excessive borrowing to resolve short term issues has majorly contributed to Pakistan’s economic troubles.

Another major issue with the Pakistani economy is the huge trade deficit that the country incurs. Pakistan’s trade deficit currently stands at $48.66 billion, a record high. This enormous trade deficit has resulted from lack of exports in the face of steadily growing imports. As the industries fail to meet the requirements of the domestic market, Pakistan has to rely on imports for bridging the gap. Similarly, the exports suffer due to low productivity of agriculture and industries. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Pakistan is ranked 143 out of 185 countries on labour productivity, having its GDP per hour worked at a measly $6.3.

Poor fiscal management and failure of the private sector to adapt to innovations has further shackled the Pakistani economy. All of these issues have contributed to the ensuing political instability.

Another Sri Lanka?

The past few months have witnessed the collapse of Sri Lanka from one of the top performing economies in South Asia to its descent into anarchy. With Pakistan in a similar crisis, it is widely argued that the country might be on its way to follow the island nation into a harrowing economic collapse. With the fate of Sri Lanka at display, it is also feared that escalating political instability might lead to an eventual military rule, as has been the norm in Pakistan.

While the situation is bad and might worsen in the coming days, Pakistan is unlikely to follow the Sri Lankan trajectory. The revival of a 2019 bailout with the IMF on July 13, clearing the way for about $1.2 billion, comes as a relief for Pakistan. This much needed help will allow the country to look for alternative channels to bridge the financing gap. The Pakistani military has also been playing an active role in stabilising the situation, with Army Chief Qamar Bajwa seeking financial help from friendly countries including UAE and Saudi Arabia. The involvement of such external lenders should discourage major creditors like China from requesting immediate repayments, easing the pressure on Islamabad. However, this requires the Pakistani government to keep a check on the steadily increasing imports.

While the present measures are likely to provide respite for now, even in the unlikely scenario of a Sri Lanka-like complete economic collapse, the military would not let the political situation in Pakistan slide into anarchy and is likely to take over by dissolving the government in the worst case.

The Way Ahead

Even though Pakistan might just evade the crisis through IMF involvement and bettering the trade deficit by curbing imports into the country, these are measures that tend to serve short term purposes and are no guarantee against another similar crisis in the coming years. The only sustainable answer would be initiating structural reforms. A self-sufficient economy must be at the heart of a rebuilding project. Increased productivity will facilitate an increase in exports while decreasing the imports on basic commodities like food and medicines. Finding economic stability is also detrimental to which path Pakistan’s politics will take in the future as the shadow of military rule looms large on the dwindling democratic set up which has managed to keep it in the barracks since 2008.

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What Is Stopping Economic Development Across The Free World?

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Notice the big events of economic booms during the last century and observe the unique role of mobilization of entrepreneurialism on such trajectories. For example, the original Silicon Valley of the USA was not a technology or financial revolution but the mobilization of an entrepreneurial journey, way before the term ‘IT’ became popular, and ‘technology’ conceptualized as worthy enough to trade in billions while staying invisible. The out-of-box thinkers came out of their garages, broke old systems, created new alternates and changed the world forever. Revolution of entrepreneurs, created by entrepreneurs and for entrepreneurs. The rest is history

Today, some 100 other nations are still trying hard with their own version to become the copycats. The existing lukewarm failures around the world on the replications of “silicon valley” of sorts, already speak volumes. Remember, only measured by entrepreneurialism, such goals, unless once Mindset Hypotheses properly understood this entire subject already beyond common narratives on economic growth.

Real economic development always needs methodical advancements of national mobilization of entrepreneurialism, upskilling and uplifting SME sectors to quadruple exportability otherwise, growth and productivity remain stagnant.  The big challenges are to bring the entrepreneurial thinking and job creator mindsets blend across the economic development teams on a fast track basis. Their current frame of mind critically needs uplifting so their confidence level stands up to the global quality, demands for speed and execution able to tackle the power of global competitive forces.  

Neither across the world, during the entire last decade, did academia build neither the long awaited Fourth Industrial Revolution nor did the bureaucracies digitized, mobilized and uplifted SME economies. Where is the entrepreneurial mix in all such equations? What have the economic development teams really learned recently?  When will they get ready to advance their thinking and blend their efforts alongside the entrepreneurial engines and right mindsets?

When 100 plus nations, talking about digitization, are still trying to figure out mobilization of large sectors of their SME economies, with little or no progress, lingering questions arise. Necessitated now, are some newly mandated activities at every stage of any economic development in progress. Identify and rearrange right mindsets, for right challenges. What worked, last many decades, today, with no results, now ready for thrown out of windows? How long unlimited printing of currencies last, how high will inflation go and how long the recessions last?

The post-pandemic technologically advanced world,  Best option is to balance mindsets and cause change, adjust to global age demands on productivity and performance, otherwise accept a diaper change, surrender to face frailty of life and limits of minds. It is not the absence of expertise that is a problem, it is the mindsets unable to recognize such expertise, in the first place.

The invisible switch: There is no political power unless there is a parallel economic power; after all, there cannot be any economic power without entrepreneurial job-creator-mindset power. Economies without digitization are as if without electricity, economic development without upskilled frontline teams as if without a bulb. Study the solutions via Mindset Hypothesis

The 4B factor: Four Billion on the march; billion displaced due to pandemic, billion replaced due to technology, billion misplaced in wrong jobs now a billion on starvation-watch. The 4B Factor, this digitally connected mass of people making this now the biggest force of global opinion in the history of time.

Global opinion v/s national public opinion: Observe, how fast the world changed, how the ocean of global opinion is now drowning ponds of national opinion. Notice, nations are already so intoxicated, in joy over the popularity of their own national opinion, while having just an opposite global opinion on the world stage. Study the global tidal waves.

Study the Agrarian Age to Industrial Age, later to Computer Age, measure how most talented ‘cow-hands’ were suddenly replaced by steam power and hydraulics and later floors filled with clerks replaced by a single computer. Study “How did we arrive here so suddenly” Excerpted Source: Naseem Javed, Sunrise, Day One, Year 2000. Published, IABC Communications World, Dec. 1995, Volume 12 Issue 11, Article, ‘Chronology Charts’

Over centuries, despite, available like an open book, the government failed to create armies of entrepreneurs but was always successful in creating real armies and real combat soldiers. Simply because, soldiers trained by sleeping in the forests while digging trenches in the rain, but not trained by running around in classrooms with water pistols or drawing pictures of tanks. 

Entrepreneurialism is neither academia born nor academic centric. Let the professors teaching entrepreneurialism break the furniture in protest, their contributions, as theories are excellent only when free, but not for heavy cost and creating student debts. Today business education is more a liability and no longer a real asset. The world changed, minds opened, old-systems closing, new worlds arising with new definitions erupting to manage the future better.

Go build an airline, place aeronautical engineers, and frequent flyers in the cockpits but leave qualified trained pilots in the airport lobbies. Now glued to the radio to find about a crash understand the similarity to current pending financial crashes, nation by nation. As a test, best check out what percentage of entrepreneurial job creator mindsets are in the mix with job seeker mindsets of any local, national economic ministry anywhere in the free world.

Save economies and grab the solutions: They can rapidly upgrade and acquire Mastery on National Mobilization of Entrepreneurialism,learn its pragmatism and common sense deployments within months, acquire digitization, mobilization and most importantly to articulate on such advanced new thinking across the national agenda. Learn fast, fail fast, raise fast and shine. Study how Expothon is tabling such ideas globally. 

Today, a shipload of some 7000 economic development officers, representingalmostthe total of top teams spread across free economies of the world should now take a luxury cruise, relax, relearn, unlearn, as their current mathematics is causing serious maladjustments on creating grassroots prosperity for some 100 nations. How fast can this force of 7000 people on a luxury cruise be upskilled on National Mobilization of SME Entrepreneurialism?

The difficult questions: How quickly options when infused with technology lead to mobilizations to discover new paths. Which economic leadership of free nations can display such transformation or even articulate on such critical topics? Which national or global institution is bold enough to face and debate such challenges? Which economic team is ready to test, explore, or try on such forbidden topics? Nevertheless, the world changing fast and will not stop for anyone.

Observing the change, it will not be the sudden arrival of missed Fourth Industrial Revolution; but the surprised arrival of the First Industrial Revolution of the Mind. Study deeply how the mind is opening up and responding to creative entrepreneurial issues, the old concept already dead, now replaced with new thinking. Leaving behind the woman entrepreneurs is another tragedy for any nation. What are some new solutions

Just like today, we no longer tolerate square wheels or rotary dials, or chasing a form stamped 10 times, across a 10-floor building without a lift. The post pandemic economic recovery in smoke and mirror war games, will no longer tolerate the inefficiencies and bureaucracies. Of course, today, the ability to face the truth now considered extraordinary strength. Change can be beautiful, once minds opened.

Refusing to face the truth; this is where all the hostility and hate breeds,  and where without diversity and tolerance, wars and fakery declared the common games, this is when humankind left as secondary, common good declared waste, societies destroyed, so who needs economic development, anyway? A new wave of grassroots economic development will emerge as the top-level economic development almost already destroyed. Hear the sounds of distant firings. It will be the five billion connected alpha dreamers, who will develop and change the world. The rest is easy 

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The first Africa-Caribbean Trade and Investment Forum Comes On 1-3 September at Barbados

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With the new dawn gradually unfolding, African financial institutions such as the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) are making tremendous efforts and offering support for African leaders in consolidating Africa’s economy within the framework of the African Union Agenda 2063. They have consistently been pushing to transform agriculture as the safest approach to reduce imports and insure food security, improve industrialization and the raise the efficiency of human resource capital in Africa.

The Government of the Republic of Barbados will be hosting the first ever edition of the AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF) which is being convened by African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and Government of Barbados in collaboration with African Union Commission (AUC), African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat, Africa Business Council, the Caribbean Community Secretariat, and Caribbean Export Development Agency. 

The African and Caribbean ties are deep rooted and based on shared history, culture, and sense of a common identity and destiny that was forged by the slave trade creating large centres of African Diaspora in the Caribbean and elsewhere. While Africa and the Caribbean have renewed their engagement, with a Heads of State and Government Summit of the Caribbean Community and Africa, held on 7 September 2021, the relationship needs to be institutionalized through deepening of trade and investment ties between the two regions.

The holding of the inaugural Africa-Caribbean Trade and Investment Forum is, therefore, a key strategic deliverable towards the institutionalisation of the reborn relationship between Africa and the Caribbean. This Forum will further consolidate the political agreement reached by Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean Community and which aims to strengthen collaboration, unity and to foster increased trade, investment and people-to-people engagement between the two regions.

It is in this context that the inaugural Africa Caribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF), has been organized to hold during 1-3 September at Bridgetown, Barbados. The Forum dubbed: AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum 2022, will hold under the theme “One People, One Destiny. Uniting and Reimagining Our Future” vividly reflecting the common cultural aspirations. 

The main goal of the AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum is to provide a platform for the development of strategic partnerships between the business communities in Africa and the CARICOM Region with the objective of fostering bilateral cooperation and engagement in trade, investment, technology transfer, innovation, tourism, culture and other services. The Forum will also be used as a vehicle to actively promote trade and investment opportunities among people of Africa and the Caribbean, as well as the wider diaspora which will contribute to the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and to the Caribbean trade development agenda.

Africa leaders and its people highly appreciate the readiness of external countries, who in practical terms, engage in infrastructure development, agriculture and industry especially at the dawn of the rapid geopolitical changes possibly leading to creating a new global economic order. Noting the significance, a number of countries are simultaneously trying to understand barriers in the region and are steadily exploring ways to leverage unto the newly created AfCFTA which provides a unique and valuable platform for businesses to access an integrated African market of over 1.3 billion people in Africa.

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