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All eyes on budget 2022-23 as Pakistan struggles to revive economy

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  • Pakistan braces itself for budget 2022-23 to be presented before National Assembly at 4pm.
  • It will be presented by Finance Minister Miftah Ismail.
  • This is being dubbed by economists as “one of the toughest budgets in Pakistan’s history”.

ISLAMABAD: All eyes are on the Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif-led government as it sets out to present its first budget while the country races against the clock to resume disbursements under a $6 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan programme.

The government will present the budget for next fiscal year 2022-23 in Parliament today, with special focus on fiscal consolidation to contain a budget deficit.

Minister for Finance Miftah Ismail will present it before the National Assembly at 4pm. It is being dubbed by economists as “one of the toughest budgets in Pakistan’s history”.

Despite official claims that the budget will restore stability to Pakistan’s economic outlook, the downside risk is difficult to ignore.

In the run-up to Pakistan’s new fiscal year beginning next month (July), independent economists have begun to forecast inflation of up to 20% over the next 12 months, at least in many key areas. This is clearly a staggering increase from the expected inflation of more than 13% in the fiscal year ending this month.

The upcoming increase will be primarily driven by a recent price increase of about one-third in domestic fuel prices, a 45% increase in gas tariffs, and a 40% to 50% increase in the cost of electricity.

Together, Pakistan’s increasingly expensive energy mix will inevitably force middle and low-income households to tighten their belts as never before. The spillover is set to be felt in increasingly expensive essential services such as healthcare and education — just two key ingredients in the life of any mainstream family. Pakistanis are about to face one of the hardest times in recent history, and no amount of sugarcoating will help.

The heavy cost of a return to normalised relations with the IMF following such unpalatable measures may appear to some as a bitter pill not worth swallowing. However, it is the inevitable bitter pill that Pakistan must swallow to save it from short-term economic ruin. The next IMF disbursement of US $1 billion on its own seems far too modest by comparison to the painful measures about to be inflicted on millions of households. But the value of a restored relationship with the Washington-based lender will come through Islamabad’s heading successfully towards accessing other sources of loans. On Thursday, finance minister Miftah Ismail used his pre-budget news conference to announce an imminent increase likely in Pakistan’s existing foreign currency reserves by about 25 per cent to US$12 billion in the next few days, on the back of a Chinese loan of US$2.4 billion.

Yet, the budget will present Pakistan with two recurring challenges—the matter of meeting tax collection targets and narrowing the divide between exports and imports, to protect the country against another balance of payments crisis. On both of these counts, a restored relationship with the IMF provides a few assurances that Pakistan will successfully oversee sweeping reforms to make a difference. For prime minister Shehbaz Sharif, leading a government that is not too far from the next elections, hardly helps.

Already, the twin combinations of sharply rising inflation and energy shortages displayed in daily lives through the dreadful reality of frequent loadshedding have hardly helped to block official credentials from heading southwards.

In the coming months, Pakistan’s continuing economic challenges will likely deepen the pressure on the Sharif government to maintain recent curbs on imports, to narrow the international trade gap. This will inevitably become the outcome of a situation where Pakistan’s space to pump up its exports will remain limited. As long as oil prices stay high and there is no sign of them going down to more affordable levels, import limits will also be a hard problem to solve.

Pakistan’s economic pain will likely remain in place, and possibly even get aggravated, in the presence of high interest rates. Many independent economists say that if inflation keeps going up, the State Bank of Pakistan will be forced to raise its interest rates even more.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s continuously rising political pressure for the foreseeable future is set to undermine the country’s economic journey. Former prime minister Imran Khan’s continuing clamour for parliamentary elections ahead of summer 2023, will likely keep the country’s overall atmosphere on the boil. Even if the Sharif government stays in place until next year, Khan’s actions will make it less likely that it will be stable, which will hurt the economy.

When finance minister Miftah Ismail rises in parliament on Friday to present the budget, he may well find comfort in delivering his speech uninterrupted in the absence of opposition members. Yet, beyond a relatively smooth delivery of the budget speech, the road ahead is set to be tougher than any seen ever before in recent times.

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Moody’s says the IMF programme will increase Pakistan’s foreign financing.

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Moody’s, a reputable international rating agency, has stated that Pakistan’s chances of acquiring funding will increase as a result of the recent agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which offers dependable sources for that purpose from both friendly countries and international financial institutions.

According to a recent Moody’s analysis on Pakistan’s economy, social unrest and tensions could result from Pakistan’s ongoing inflation. The country’s economic reforms may be hampered by increased taxes and potential changes to the energy tariff, it continued.

Moody’s, on the other hand, agrees that the coalition government headed by Shehbaz Sharif of the PML-N is in danger of failing to secure an election mandate, which may potentially undermine the successful and long-lasting execution of economic reforms.

The government’s capacity to proceed with economic changes may be hampered by societal unrest and poor governance, according to Moody’s.

In order to appease the IMF by fulfilling a prerequisite for authorising a rescue package, the government raised the basic tariff on electricity, which coincided with the most recent increase in fuel prices announced on Monday. This report was released by Moody’s.

Food costs have increased in the nation, where the vast majority is experiencing an unprecedented crisis due to the high cost of living, following the government’s earlier presentation of a budget that included a large increase in income tax for the salaried classes and the implementation of GST on commodities like milk.

The most recent comments were made following Islamabad’s achievement of a staff-level agreement for a $7 billion contract that spans 37 months and is contingent upon final approval by the IMF Executive Board.

It states that Pakistan will need foreign financing totaling about $21 billion in 2024–2025 and $23 billion in 2025–2026, meaning that the country’s present $9.4 billion in reserves won’t be sufficient to cover its needs.

Therefore, according to Moody’s, Pakistan is in an alarming position with regard to its external debt, and the next three to five years will be extremely difficult for the formulation and implementation of policies.

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Base Of bilateral relations: China And Pakistan Reiterate Their Support For CPEC

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China-Pakistan economic corridor is a major project of the Belt and Road Initiative, and both countries have reiterated their commitment to it. It remains a fundamental aspect of their bilateral relations.

Vice Chairman Zhao Chenxin of the National Development and Reform Commission of China and Minister Ahsan Iqbal of Planning and Development met in Beijing, where Ahsan Iqbal made this assurance.

The summit made clear how committed China and Pakistan are to advancing their strategic cooperative partnership in all weather conditions.

The focus of the discussion was on how the CPEC was going, with both parties reviewing project development and discussing how the agreement made at the leadership level will lead to the launch of an enhanced version of the CPEC.

In order to improve trade, connectivity, and socioeconomic growth in the area, they emphasised the need of CPEC projects.

The Ml-I Project, the KKH realignment, and the Sukkur-Hyderabad motorway—the last remaining segment of the Karachi-Peshawar motorway network—were all to be expedited.

Expanding the partnership’s horizons to include technology, innovation, education, connectivity, and renewable energy sources was another topic of discussion.

Specifically in the special economic zones being built under the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation (CPEX), Vice Chairman NDRC emphasised the possibility of China investing more in Pakistan.

In addition to expressing confidence in the ongoing success of the two nations’ collaboration, Zhao Chenxin reiterated China’s support for Pakistan’s development aspirations.

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Pakistani government raises petrol prices

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A recent announcement states that the price of petrol has increased by Rs 9.99 per litre, to Rs 275.60 per litre.

The cost of high-speed diesel has also increased significantly, rising by Rs 6.18 a litre. Diesel is now priced at Rs 283.63 a litre.

Furthermore, kerosene now costs Rs 0.83 more per gallon.

The cost of products and services is predicted to rise in response to the increase in petroleum prices, further taxing household budgets and jeopardizing the stability of the economy.

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