Pakistan on the brink of default, again
Pakistan’s time is running out. For decades, the country has run a system that needs near-constant external assistance. The system doesn’t deliver prosperity outside a tiny elite. Real incomes are, at best, stagnate. We barely export or save. If there is a strategy, it is waiting for someone to invade Afghanistan to extract geopolitical rents from them.
Underlying these decades-long challenges is a fundamentally changing society. For one: over the next 28 years, Pakistan will add about 132 million more people above its current population size. Pakistanis also now live increasingly in urban areas which reshapes how people interact with each other – opening new avenues for collective action and greater demand for public services. Add to this increased access to technology. The country is changing even if the economic system that governs them remains the same.
The changing dynamics demand sustained economic growth to improve lives, but our current system doesn’t allow growth. Whenever the economic growth rate exceeds 4-odd%, Pakistan’s import bill skyrockets pushing the country into a balance of payments crisis. This is a fundamental constraint in Pakistan’s growth model: nothing short of a complete break from the current trajectory will work.
Today, Pakistan is on the brink again. While a sovereign default is unlikely, what is clear is that Pakistan’s survival once again depends solely on the generosity of its few allies. This generosity might be eventually forthcoming allowing us to kick the bucket down the road for a few months – but then what? What happens a few months from now when once again we need more money to pay for imports or service our debt?
We need a radical break. There must be an immediate realization that the current economic system neither delivers growth for its citizens nor is stable enough to be maintained. Critically: even those who benefit from the current economic system, must realize that the system isn’t sustainable – even for growing their wealth. A different pathway requires a pro-growth coalition that pushes for reforms that can make real gains in Pakistan’s productive capacity.
What should such a reform agenda prioritize? I suggest three actions. First: Pakistan must discourage the capital stuck in real estate. Putting a large chunk of domestic savings into real estate takes capital away from sectors that can contribute towards exports (plots can’t be exported, alas). A great way to do this is by levying an annual tax on urban land. Not only would this raise revenue for public services but help allocate capital towards tradable sectors.
Second: We need deliberate and significant efforts to improve female labour market participation. Currently, only two out of 10 adult women are in the labour market; this is below countries of similar income levels. One way to do so is by investing in urban transport systems that would disproportionately benefit women as they face the highest mobility barriers.
Third: Pakistan should reduce policy-induced market distortions that are often in place to benefit vested interests. One example are the import duties that incentivize firms to sell domestically rather than attempt to innovate and compete abroad (a recent report by the World Bank calculates that a 10% import duty ups the profitability of selling domestically as opposed to exporting by 40%). By making the market a level playing field, we can incentivize firms to innovate and compete globally.
Pakistan is on a path to the abyss. In 1990, a child born in Pakistan would expect to live longer than a child born in India or Bangladesh. Today, that has been completely reversed. You’re better off being born in Dhaka or Chennai, than Lahore. This trajectory will continue if we don’t do something differently. Time is running out.
Gold rate declines for second consecutive day
- Rate of gold reaches Rs232,800 per tola.
- International rate up by $11 per ounce.
- The silver price remains unchanged.
Despite an increase in the international rate, gold’s value declined in Pakistan for the second consecutive day Tuesday.
Data provided by the All Pakistan Sarafa Gems and Jewellers Association (APSGJA) showed the price of gold (24 carats) decreased by Rs1,700 per tola and Rs1,458 per 10 grams to reach Rs232,800 and Rs199,588, respectively.
The gold rate cumulatively lost Rs1,100 per tola last week, and a further Rs1,700 on the opening day this week.
Meanwhile, the international price went up $11 to settle at $1,956 per ounce.
The safe-haven bullion’s value has remained volatile in the international market recently. However, it bounced back from its lowest level in over two months Tuesday after the US dollar’s value declined from a high and investors remained anxious about negotiations on the US debt ceiling.
If the debt ceiling — which is currently capped at $31.4 trillion — is not raised in the next few days, it would trigger the first-ever US default.
Investors also remained wary about a possible hike in the interest rate, which would negatively affect gold’s value.
Meanwhile, the gold rate has been volatile in Pakistan recently amid continued political and economic uncertainty, high inflation, and currency depreciation. People prefer to buy the yellow metal in such times as a safe investment and a hedge.
The rupee gained Re0.07 or 0.02% against the US dollar in the interbank market Tuesday, closing at Rs285.35, according to State Bank of Pakistan data.
Data shared by the jeweller’s body showed that the rate of silver remained unchanged at Rs2,850 per tola and Rs2,443.41 per 20 grams, respectively.
France launching electric car battery factory to dent Chinese dominance
Under a plan of reindustrialisation by President Emmanuel Macron, France is to inaugurate a factory for manufacturing batteries for electric cars Tuesday in Billy-Berclau — the first of its kind — challenging the Chinese dominance in the industry, according to an AFP report.
Battery industry buildup is a component of the plan by Macron with a clutch of factories set to emerge in the north of the country over the next three years.
The “gigafactory” is owned by Automotive Cells Company, a partnership between French energy giant TotalEnergies, Germany’s Mercedes-Benz and US-European automaker Stellantis, which produces a range of brands including Peugeot, Fiat and Chrysler.
The inauguration will be attended by French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire and the country’s energy transition and industry ministers along with German and Italian officials.
The heads of Mercedes, Stellantis and TotalEnergies will also be at the event.
The factory is as large as football pitches in which production will commence this summer.
Elected officials and business leaders intend to turn the Hauts-de-France region into “Battery Valley” — the electric car industry’s answer to Silicon Valley.
AESC-Envision — a Sino-Japanese group — is building a plant near the city of Douai which will supply French automaker Renault from early 2025.
French startup Verkor is scheduled to begin production at a facility in Dunkirk from mid-2025 while Taiwan’s ProLogium has also chosen the coastal city for its first European factory, with output to start in 2026.
Competition between US and China
As European Union (EU) has marked a deadline of 2035 to phase out fossil fuel-run cars, the countries are racing to step up the production of batteries and electric vehicles to meet the target of electric vehicles within the deadline.
In recent years, around 50 battery factory projects have been announced in the EU and the French government has set a target of producing two million electric vehicles per year by 2030, as per the economy ministry.
The ministry said that “the ACC plant will supply 500,000 vehicles per year by then.”
China is the world leader in electric car battery production and also dominates the production of the raw materials needed to make them.
Europe also faces stiff competition from the United States, which is heavily subsidising the sector through the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $370 billion in clean energy incentives.
Govt mulls slashing duty on mobile phones in budget
ISLAMABAD: The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) is mulling options to reduce the duty on mobile phones in the federal budget for the fiscal year 2023-24 — which is expected to be unveiled on June 9 — keeping in view the suggestions of Pakistan Mobile Phone Traders, The News reported Monday.
Previously, the government was obliged to raise the duty on mobile phones by 100% to 150%, and resultantly, only Rs5 billion to Rs10 billion were being deposited in the national exchequer instead of Rs85 billion.
The number of mobile phone users in Pakistan has exceeded 186.9 million.
In order to cope with the financial crisis of the current financial year, in the new budget, a proposal for a conspicuous reduction in the rates of duties on cellular phones is under consideration, which is about 100% to 150% at present on small and big mobile phones.
The mobile industry is on the brink of collapse due to an increase in taxes. It not only affected traders but also made the life of millions of people difficult to earn a livelihood.
It has been learnt that a delegation of the Mobile Phones Traders Association has given recommendations to Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and other senior officials.
The delegation ensured that efforts would be made to include the recommendations in the budget. These proposals and recommendations are being reviewed to make them a part of the new budget.
It has been learnt that a 75% duty was imposed on cellular phones in Pakistan as compared to other countries of the region like Singapore, Bangladesh and Turkey where it is not at that level. That is the reason people are using smartphones without paying duties in connivance with FBR.
The additional 100% to 150% duty on cell phones has made it out of reach of the poor, labourers, daily wagers, students, professionals, the lawyer community, and civil society.
All Pakistan Mobile Phones Traders Association General Secretary Munir Beg Mirza said that due to the ban on the import of used mobile phones, smuggling has increased to give favour to a few companies.
Also, people are using smartphones illegally without paying heavy taxes to enjoy all functions of smartphones, which is inflicting a loss on the national kitty.
He said that not only every consumer would pay tax but also the government would get Rs100 billion instead of Rs5 billion on phones if an appropriate duty was imposed in the new financial year.
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