The imports numbers published by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) for the last two months are not adding up. According to the official data, Pakistan imported $7.9 billion worth of goods in November and $7.6 billion in December. This is much higher than the previous six months average imports of $6.1 billion. The cumulative number of $15.5 billion in the last two months is too high and is counterintuitive. It seems that there is something missing somewhere in the numbers. The government needs to explain this as such high import and trade deficit numbers are creating panic in the markets.
One glaring anomaly in November was the imports of petroleum products and crude. According to PBS, Pakistan imported 2.8 million tons of petroleum products and crude in November. That is far higher than average monthly imports in the past. Pakistan imported 22.9 million tons of oil equivalent (TOE) in 2019 and 18.7 million TOE in 2020. This implies a monthly average of 1.7 million TOE imports. How can Pakistan import 2.8 million tons in November 2021?
The data of petroleum imports being fed by Oil Companies Advisory Council (OCAC) was 1.83 million tons in November while the PBS data stood at 2.84 million tons. OCAC number was cross verified by the ministry of energy. And SBP number is also suggesting similar imports as posted by OCAC. The question is what is being fed to PBS through PRAL that is creating such a huge difference. It’s a mystery.
The difference is staggering one million tons; in dollars terms, the difference is around $600 million. One ship carries 60,000 tons. This would imply 17 extra ships in November. How can 17 ships reporting have gone missing by OCAC? Another question is about the port handling capacity. Certainly, our choking ports cannot handle 2.8 million tons volume a month. There is something missing.
The other mysterious area is of COVID vaccine imports. According to Faisal Sultan’s tweet, Pakistan has imported 247 million doses till 31st December 2021 – out of which 157 million doses were purchased and the remaining are grants from COVAX and China. The imports numbers reflect the total 247 million doses. For grants, the reporting is different in the current account. But all the numbers are to be reflected in imports.
Vaccines are parked in medicinal imports in PBS data. The average monthly medicinal imports stood at $87 million during January 2019 to March 2021. Thereafter, the number started growing and this is where COVID vaccines are reflected. During April-Nov 2021, medicinal imports stood at $2,678 million. Assuming non-Covid vaccine monthly imports at $87 million per month, the vaccine imports is estimated at $1,982 million during Apr-Nov 2021. This would imply average price per dose at $8. According to government sources, the prices is around $7.
The government sources are now saying that $705 million worth of vaccines are being imported in December. This number is not making sense. Even sources in NCOC are not able to digest $705 million vaccine imports in December. There is something mysterious here too.
Adding the two anomalies of $600 million in November and $700 million due to vaccine in December, there is unexplained $1.3 billion worth of imports in the import bill in the last two months. The government needs to explain these anomalies to the market. Seeing $15.5 billion imports and $9.9 billion trade deficit in the last two months, panic is spreading, which is putting pressure on PKR. Government should explain this to calm the markets and to end the mystery.