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ISLAMABAD: Every Pakistani wants to buy imported products, which is one of the major reasons that keeps the country away from progress and prosperity, Federal Finance Minister Hafeez Sheikh said in Senate on Monday. “The prices of the imported products were deliberately kept low — through a policy. And everyone wants to purchase imported products. As a result the industrialisation that should have been done here — job opportunities and all that — was stopped. This is the main reason our country has not prospered and progressed the way it should have,” he said at the Senate sitting. “Our products become expensive in foreign countries and resultantly they saw a decrease in their demand,” he said. On the scenario involving dollar regulation in Pakistan, the finance minister said “To keep the dollar devalued artificially, you have to pump in your dollars in the market to control dollar’s price and that’s what actually happened in the past.” When the previous programme of International Monetary Fund (IMF) ended, the foreign exchange reserves dropped to less than half in the last 18 months of the previous government—from $ 18 billion to less than $ 9 billion, the finance minister said adding that the gap between exports and imports soared from $ 32 billion to $ 35 billion. This gap, the minister said, was highest ever in the history of Pakistan. In the five years of the previous government, the export growth rate had dropped below zero, he said.

The minister said government is focusing on increasing the exports and has taken different measures to promote industry.

The government, he said, is also focusing on reducing foreign debt, which he said, is a huge burden on Pakistan’s economy. “Blaming this government for current debt spike is unfair because it is also paying the loans obtained by the previous governments,” Hafeez Sheikh said.

“During initial days of PTI government, our first priority was to save the country from the impending default and resultantly the government took result-oriented decisions and had landmark agreement with IMF,” he said.

He said the current government inherited “a very precarious economic situation in 2018 and therefore had to introduce strict financial discipline” to curtail excessive government expenditure, increase revenue collection, introduce market driven exchange rate, remove large tax exemptions and discourage imports.

“The government did not borrow even a single penny from the State Bank of Pakistan during the last one-and-half year, while no supplementary grants were provided,” Sheikh said.

“Due to primary surplus, we don’t need loans if we don’t have to repay previous loans,” he said.

Since the spread of COVID-19, the government has taken several initiatives to facilitate agriculture and construction sectors to accelerate economic recovery, he said.

“Now, the combined impact of various progressive economic indicators show that the country is moving forward,” the finance minister said. Industries Minister Hammad Azhar said that from October onwards last year, the price of 20 kilograms flour bag in Punjab has been Rs 860 and in Sindh it is Rs 1100.

“Even today, flour price is highest in Sindh. Sindh govt procured 1.2 million tonnes of flour. In October-November, Sindh government refused to release 1.2 million tonnes of flour in the market that caused flour crisis and resulted in increase in flour price. “It was either Sindh government’s incompetence or a deliberate plan to not release flour in time,” he said.

The minister said to ensure adequate supply of flour, Punjab government timely enhanced the release of wheat to flour mills, however, at the same time Sindh government limited the release which resulted in price hike of flour in Sindh. On the issues related to sugar, he said more sugar will be imported to ensure its smooth and cheap supply.

“We will seek permission from ECC (Economic Coordination Committee) to import 5000 tonnes of more sugar,” he said. He said for the first time in history, sugarcane farmers are being paid real price of their crop due to support price announced by the PTI government. The minister said petroleum prices in Pakistan are lower than that of the neighbouring countries.

Meanwhile, Senate strongly condemned the “inhuman and degrading treatment of Kashmiri leader Yasin Malik since his only crime is to raise his voice against the brutal Indian military Occupation.”

The Upper House of the Parliament adopted a unanimous resolution moved by leader of the Opposition in Senate Raja Zafar-ul-Haq against systematic imprisonment and torture of political prisoners in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).

The Senate session has been prorogued.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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