June 9, 2020 / 4:39 PM / a month ago

Pakistan to target 2.3% growth in FY21 budget as economy recovers from pandemic

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan will target growth of 2.3% in fiscal year 2020-21, according to government officials and documents seen by Reuters that said the economic landscape would depend mainly on the country’s ability to control the coronavirus pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: A woman rides on a motor bike as she wears a protective face mask amid the rush of people outside a market as the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Karachi, Pakistan June 8, 2020. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro/File Photo

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government is set to present its 2020-21 budget on Friday, in a parliamentary session that only 25% of lawmakers will attend due to pandemic restrictions.

“The GDP growth for 2020-21 is targeted at 2.3 percent with contributions from agriculture (2.9 percent), industry (0.1 percent) and services (2.8 percent),” a planning commission working paper seen by Reuters said.

That forecast is much rosier than the 0.2% contraction in 2020-21 projected by the World Bank earlier in June. The multilateral lender sees growth of -2.6% this fiscal year, ending June 30, while the government expects a 0.4% contraction.

A recent surge in COVID-19 cases has made economists sceptical about a quick recovery in the South Asian nation. Khan said on Monday that the outbreak was not expected to hit its peak until July or August.

The planning commission paper projects an average inflation rate of 6.5% in 2020-21, a trade deficit of 7.1% of GDP and a current account deficit of 1.6% of GDP. Exports and imports are projected to grow at 1.5% and 1.1%, respectively.

Inflation hit a decade-high of 14.56% in January.

BUDGET OUTLAY

A budget strategy paper in March, just before the pandemic hit, had projected growth of 3% in 2020-21.

The paper, seen by Reuters, foresaw spending of 7.6 trillion Pakistani rupees ($46.76 billion) and a fiscal deficit of 6.9% of GDP — much lower than a current finance ministry projection of over 9% for 2019-20.

Of that, 3.235 trillion Pakistani rupees ($19.90 billion) was earmarked for debt servicing and 1.402 trillion Pakistani rupees ($8.63 billion) for defence — a rise of over 12% from last year.

The March paper projected public sector development spending of 700-900 billion rupees, compared with 650 billion rupees ($4 billion) in the newer planning commission paper.

Officials say the numbers from March’s strategy paper could be tweaked slightly, although the total outlay is likely to be similar.

The National Economic Council (NEC) will review the estimates ahead of Friday’s budget and can make changes.

HISTORICAL BORROWING

Hit hard by the coronavirus and with about $10 billion in debt service costs in the coming financial year, Pakistan needs funds to stave off a balance of payments crisis, officials from the finance and economic affair division told Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective face mask as he gestures while shopping amid the rush of people outside an electronics market, after Pakistan started easing the lockdown restrictions, as the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Karachi, Pakistan June 4, 2020. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro/File Photo/File Photo

“We have plans to mobilise around $14 billion in inflows,” one of the high-ranking officials said — more than Pakistan has borrowed in a single-year before.

That includes $6 billion from multilateral banks, $2 billion from last year’s IMF bailout package, $3 billion in Chinese commercial loan rollovers, $1.5 billion from Eurobonds, and the rest in bilateral aid and Saudi oil repayment facilitation.

The International Monetary Fund money is subject to a successful review, he said.

Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Gibran Peshimam, Euan Rocha and Catherine Evans

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