Pakistan’s economy recovered in Fiscal Year 2021, in part due to the government’s effective use of targeted lockdowns to manage the spread of COVID-19, while also permitting economic activity to largely continue, according to a new World Bank report.
The October 2021 Pakistan Development Update: Reviving Exports shows that the country’s real GDP growth rebounded to 3.5 per cent in FY2021, after contracting by 0.5 per cent in FY2020 with the onset of the global pandemic. In addition, inflation eased, the fiscal deficit improved to 7.3 per cent of GDP, and the current account deficit shrunk to 0.6 per cent of GDP – the lowest in a decade.
“With effective micro-lockdowns, record-high remittance inflows and a supportive monetary policy, Pakistan’s economic growth rebounded in FY2021,” said Najy Benhassine, World Bank Country Director for Pakistan.
“These measures, together with the expansion of the Ehsaas program and support to businesses, were key to strengthening the economy and recovering from the economic fallout associated with COVID-19.”
However, due to strengthened domestic demand, imports have grown much higher than exports in recent months, leading to a large trade deficit. To sustain strong economic growth, Pakistan needs to increase private investment and export more. In examining the country’s persistent trade imbalance, the report identifies key factors that are hindering exports: high effective import tariff rates, limited availability of long-term financing for firms to expand export capacity, inadequate provision of market intelligence services for exporters, and low productivity of Pakistani firms.
“The long-term decline in exports as a share of GDP has implications for the country’s foreign exchange, jobs, and productivity growth. Therefore, confronting core challenges that are necessary for Pakistan to compete in global markets is an imperative for sustainable growth,” said Derek Chen, Senior Economist, World Bank.
“Since long-standing issues with the persistent trade gap have resurfaced, this edition of the Pakistan Development Update on “Reviving Exports” provides a timely, in-depth assessment and policy recommendations that can help spur exports.”
The report provides policy recommendations that can help improve Pakistan’s export competitiveness:
- Gradually reduce effective rates of protection through a long-term tariff rationalisation strategy to encourage exports,
- Reallocate export financing away from working capital and into capacity expansion through the Long-Term Financing Facility,
- Consolidate market intelligence services by supporting new exporters and evaluating the impact of current interventions to increase their effectiveness,
- Design and implement a long-term strategy to upgrade productivity of firms that fosters competition, innovation and maximises export potential.
The Pakistan Development Update is a companion piece to the South Asia Economic Focus, a twice-a-year World Bank report that examines economic developments and prospects in the region and analyses policy challenges faced by countries. The Fall 2021 edition titled Shifting Gears: Digitisation and Services-Led Development, showed that South Asia’s recovery continues as global demand rebounded and targeted containment measures helped minimise the economic impacts of the recent waves of COVID-19. But the recovery remains fragile and uneven, and most countries remain far from pre-pandemic trend levels.
Pakistan has been a member of the World Bank since 1950. Since then, the World Bank has provided $40 billion in assistance. The World Bank’s program in Pakistan is governed by the Country Partnership Strategy for FY2015-2020 with four priority areas of engagement: energy, private sector development, inclusion, and service delivery. The current portfolio has 58 projects and a total commitment of $13.8 billion.