Pakistan looking at 'unmanageable' economic catastrophe post Aramco attacks – experts

A satellite image shows an apparent drone strike on an Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, on Sept. 14, 2019. (Planet Labs Inc/Handout via REUTERS)
Updated 18 September 2019

Pakistan looking at 'unmanageable' economic catastrophe post Aramco attacks – experts

  • Every $5 per barrel price increase would jack up Pakistan’s import bill by $1.2 billion, analysts warn
  • Houthis attack on oil facilities removes 5.7 mbd from global supply, trigger price spike

KARACHI: Pakistan would take a $1.2 billion hit on every $5 per barrel increase in the global oil prices, experts told Arab News after two Saudi oil facilities were droned on Saturday, adding that such a scenario could lead to “unimaginable” economic consequences for the South Asian country.
The Houthi militia attacked the Kingdom’s major oil facilities in the Eastern Province on Saturday, causing a disruption of 5.7 million barrels a day and removed 5 percent of global oil supply that resulted in a 15 percent increase in the global oil price at the beginning of the Asian trade on Monday.
The Brent crude for November futures traded at $65.41 per barrel by midday after posting an 8.6 percent gain in the Asian trade.
The attack that the US State Secretary, Mike Pompeo, blamed on Iran resulted in the single biggest oil supply disruption since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 when 5.6 million barrels a day went out of the global supply.
With all eyes riveted on Saudi Arabia and how quickly it manages to restore its full oil production, Pakistani experts say it will have a devastating impact on the country’s economy as Pakistan’s enhanced oil import bill will undermine all the measures to bring down the current account deficit.
Oil imports constituted 26 percent of the country’s total import bill of $54.8 billion during the fiscal year FY19 and 24 percent during the fiscal year FY18, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.
“Every $5 per barrel surge in oil prices weakens Pakistan’s balance of payments by $1.2bn on an annual basis, assuming that the prices remain high throughout the year,” Samiullah Tariq, Director Research at the Arif Habib Limited, a brokerage firm, told Arab News on Monday.
“Higher oil prices will lead to higher inflation and negative balance of payments. If the global uncertainty persists it will also negatively affect us since such circumstances usually impede financial inflows. It would also make things difficult for Eurobond and Sukuk issuance,” he added.
Economists say that such attacks can thwart Pakistan’s efforts to reduce its import bill, adding to its current account deficit once again.
“The price spike that is expected to stay at around $70 per barrel will increase our import bill and trade deficit that recently declined. This will once again begin to erode our foreign reserves,” Dr. Ayub Mehar, a senior economist, told Arab News.
“The government must take remedial measures from now on,” he added.
“The increasing crude prices will exert pressure on an already indebted nation,” GA Sabri, former secretary petroleum, told Arab News. “We are facing a financial crisis and this attack can further deepen our losses. The losses can be unmanageable because we mainly import oil from Saudi Arabia. The recent developments are very serious and disturbing and can have a trickle down impact on the overall economy.”
Experts suggest exploration of domestic energy resources. They also implore the government to find new oil import destinations to mitigate risks to Pakistan’s energy security.
“This attack on the Aramco installations show that in future such facilities would be subjected to war targets in the regional flare up. This will impact your strategic facilities,” Dr. Maria Sultan, Director General of South Asian Strategic Stability Institute University, told Arab News.
“I am constantly calling for exploration of domestic oil and gas and other minerals because the country is full of these natural energy resources,” Sabri suggested. “We must also honor our commitments and start long term TAPI [Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India] gas pipeline project,” he added. 


Pakistan’s industrialists hope for tax cuts, relief measures in budget

Updated 06 June 2020

Pakistan’s industrialists hope for tax cuts, relief measures in budget

  • Business community demands reduction in rates and number of existing taxes for the revival of sluggish economy
  • Economists believe revenue collection and locust control will pose major challenges to the government

KARACHI: As Pakistan focuses on stimulating growth and creating jobs in the upcoming federal budget, the country’s business community called for slashing taxes and introducing relief measures to bring the economy out of its sluggish mode while economists predicted that revenue collection would continue to constitute a major challenge for the government.
Pakistan is expected to present its income and expenditure plan for the next fiscal year (FY2020-21) in the coming week, with a focus to spur the economic growth without imposing new taxes.
“The focus of the upcoming budget is to stimulate growth and create jobs. The focus of the [$8 billion] stimulus package is toward providing support to business, in particular [small and medium enterprises] through payroll loans at subsidized rates, deferral of principal and interest payments for one year and quick disbursement of all as refunds to business,” Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue, told Arab News last week in an exclusive interview.
He also categorically denied that there would be new taxes in the upcoming budget.
Pakistan’s business community expects that the government will come up with a relief package for the revival of the country’s economy to avoid its further weakening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have proposed that the government should give relief to industries across the board like the one given to the construction industry because it is vital for the revival of the economy,” Agha Shahab Ahmed Khan, President of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), told Arab News. “The reforms and recovery will automatically follow.”
Industrialists say the government must focus on the means of creating wealth by adopting appropriate measures and offering suitable incentives such as the ones witnessed in other countries. “If there is no wealth creation, there will be no wealth distribution. This may also lead to social disruption in the country,” the KCCI president said, adding: “We have suggested that sales tax should be brought down to a single digit from 17 percent to spur business activities.”
Industrialists also hope that apart from revising the tax rates, the number of taxes will also be reduced by the government. “We expect that the number of taxes will reduce as part of the ease of doing business initiative under the current circumstances. In Punjab, the government has imposed about 130 different taxes,” Almas Hyder, an industrialist and former president of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), told Arab News.
“The government must expedite the refund process,” she continued, adding: “I say this because this has impacted the cash flow of companies.”
Muhammad Ahmed, President of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI), concurred with Hyder, saying: “There is no doubt that refunds are being paid, but income tax refunds have not been issued. We should be given permission to adjust that money with the government in the shape of customs duties or sales tax.”
The ICCI president called for measures to make the upcoming budget business-friendly in the prevailing environment.
“The budget should be business-friendly since that will help us make the economy flourish. If new businesses cannot be set up, at least the existing ones that have suffered setbacks should be allowed to survive and sustain in these difficult times,” he added.
As business community demands relief in the upcoming budget, the country’s economists predict that the government is likely to face major revenue constraints due to a decline in the collection rate within the current economic framework. “If you have no income, you will not be able to make expenditures,” Dr. Abdul Qayyum Suleri, member of the government’s Economic Advisory Council (EAC), told Arab News.
“The second major challenge the government is facing is the locust attack which is going to cost the country about Rs 1 trillion in the worst case scenario. If the damage is contained, the loss will be about Rs 250 billion,” he added.
However, Dr. Khaqan Najeeb, who was part of the budget-making process last year since he worked as an adviser with the finance ministry, suggested that the next budget could be crafted with a different approach, keeping in mind resource generation through tax compliance, deficit reduction by curtailing expenditures, and deficit financing by shifting to non-debt creating instruments.
“Shifting the financing of budget to non-debt creating instruments is the only way to flatten the curve on debt build-up. Divestment, past recoveries, collecting dividends from state-owned companies, arrears of taxes and energy, all can contribute in financing the deficit. This can restore the public’s flagging faith in the integrity of the policymakers to break the debt cycle,” he added.
Dr. Suleri said that apart from debt servicing, defense and administrative costs and development expenditure’s additional resources would be required to fund the health sector and locust control operations.
“Pakistan will need about $15 billion of additional borrowing amid remittance, foreign investment and export decline,” he noted while observing: “Two sectors – energy and loss making public sector enterprises – will be under pressure since the International Monetary Fund may object to budget allocations. Increase in salaries and pensions may fall into this category.”
Economists expect that few ongoing development projects will be financed while major share of funds is likely to be diverted to the health sector in the current situation.