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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Business Forum (PBF) said Pakistan’s exports increased by 13.5% in October 2023, reaching a total of $2.7 billion, according to the Pakistan Business Forum (PBF) and the trade deficit also decreased by 4.5% during the same period.

The PBF’s Vice President, Chaudhry Ahmad Jawad, said that the agriculture sector grew by 73% in October, with rice and sesame seed exports increasing significantly. This, he said, shows that the country’s exports are diversifying and that the agricultural industry is strong.

Jawad also said that Pakistan needs to increase its services exports, particularly in information and communication technology (ICT), in order to reduce its balance of payment deficit. He pointed out that India’s ICT exports crossed the $140 billion mark in fiscal year 2022-23, doubling in the past five years. In contrast, Pakistan’s ICT exports peaked at $2.6 billion in fiscal year 2021-22, but have not grown since then.

Jawad said that the main reason for the difference between Pakistan and India is the availability of skilled labor. India has focused on technology and engineering in recent decades, which is paying off, while Pakistan’s education standards have declined.

He said that there is little that can be done to correct this situation in the short to medium term, but that Pakistan still has a lot of room to grow its ICT sector.

Jawad said that many IT companies in Pakistan complain that most IT graduates are not skilled enough to help generate exports. He suggested that this could be addressed by offering crash courses to teach half-cooked graduates the right skills.

He also said that the PBF believes that Pakistan does not have a shortage of talent, but that the technology sector is not creating enough demand and that it is very difficult to bring business to the country. He added that there is a problem with remitting money outside Pakistan, which reduces the incentive for companies to grow in the country.

Jawad said that the State Bank of Pakistan tried to address this problem in 2020, which led to higher growth in the following two years. However, he said that last year’s balance of payment crisis eroded confidence, and that companies are now trying their best to keep their dollars abroad. He said that the government needs to work on this issue.

A PBF official also said that it is encouraging that the caretaker IT minister is aiming to increase ICT exports to $10 billion and to bring the PayPal and Stripe payment gateways to Pakistan. He said that these are good steps, but that the SBP is not allowing exporters to remit to the existing limits due to the country’s chronic dollar shortages. He said that this issue needs to be addressed by the finance division.

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