At the 51st Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors, Asian Development Bank, President Takehiko Nakao said that Pakistan has made progress, which is evident from its completion of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) bailout programme, but challenges remain as the country maneuvers its way through worrying economic indicators and depleting foreign exchange reserves. The remarks make sense since GDP growth will hit a 12-year high at the end of the current fiscal year, according to official figures. From 4.1% in fiscal year 2014, GDP growth has surged to 5.8%. The PML-N may have missed its target but an improvement has been ma
However, there is also a negative side to the picture. The growth has come on the back of massive debt, pointing to the need for sustainable returns if the trajectory is to remain positive. Pakistan's total debt has surged to Rs22.8 trillion as of December 2017, owing to loans under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), borrowings to maintain foreign reserves and infrastructure, and floating Euro and Sukuk bonds. A few weeks ago, at a Belt and Road conference in Beijing, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde stated that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) can provide infrastructure financing to countries, but it should not be considered "a free lunch". She expressed concerns over the increase in global debt due to BRI, which would pose balance of payment challenges.
This particularly holds true for countries that already have a debt problem including Pakistan. What began as an investment project of $46 billion has now grown to $62 billion. This means that over the next 30 years the country will be repaying billions of dollars. The IMF has already expressed apprehensions and cautioned the government of adverse implications. According to ADB, connectivity is important and the Bank is willing to cooperate but at the same time, economic reality and feasibility should be considered: "If we invest in borrowed money then we need economic return. If countries borrow too much without assessing economic viability it would cause issues in repayment. Owing to the presence of ideas like BRI, we should consider debt sustainability issues thoroughly."
According to Nakao, the level of cooperation between Pakistan and China remains strong and if connectivity in the region is improving the business climate, then it is a positive factor. The ADB president also mentioned the trade war between the US and China, saying if trade is interrupted it would damage Asian economies along with other nations. As things stand, trade in Asia has surged in 2017 compared to the previous year, partly due to higher prices of resources, rise of commodity trade and stronger growth in developed economies, including the US. The ADB chief stressed that there is a great need to address the six to eight-hour daily power outages that plague many regions in Pakistan. He revealed that it was discussed with Finance Minister Miftah Ismail in Washington a few weeks ago.
No doubt, there is need for a stronger energy policy, and in this connection, ADB's offer is welcome that it is ready to provide policybased lending or budget support in coming months. It may be added here that experts have for some time been pointing out that while CPEC is playing a crucial role in speeding up the growth process, CPEC related loans are piling up which could pose problems of sustainability in the coming years. This requires that our planners should ensure the projects under CPEC are completed at the earliest to yield maximum results.