IMF ready to work with new govt to assist Pakistan towards economic sustainability

Mehtab Haider
A representational image of the International Monetary Funds logo. — Reuters/File
A representational image of the International Monetary Fund's logo. — Reuters/File

  • "IMF looks forward to discuss policies that would support sustainable growth," resident chief says.
  • Fund's office did not give any specific date for parleys to get deadlocked IMF programme going.
  • On an immediate basis, revival of IMF programme is not an easy task.

ISLAMABAD: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is ready to assist Pakistan in its efforts to head off a looming balance of payment crisis and suggest roadmaps towards economic sustainability along with the new government, The News reported Friday.

Speaking to The News, IMF’s Resident Chief in Pakistan Esther Perez Ruiz said: “The IMF congratulates [Shehbaz] Sharif on becoming the prime minister and looks forward to working with his government and discussing policies that would support inclusive and sustainable growth.”

She said this while commenting on the possibility of holding parleys with Pakistani authorities for accomplishing the 7th Review under the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility (EFF). However, the IMF’s office did not give any specific date or time frame for the parleys to get the deadlocked IMF programme going.

Read more: PM Shehbaz Sharif to name Miftah Ismail as finance chief ahead of IMF talks, says report

According to top official sources, Pakistan requires massive dollar injections on an immediate basis in order to avert a balance of payment crisis as the foreign currency reserves held by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) further dropped to $10.8 billion as of April 8, 2022. China has not yet rolled over its commercial loan of $2.5 billion.

Another top official said China conveyed they had agreed in principle to roll over this commercial loan but now they would work out the technical details as a consortium of three banks was involved in it. “The Chinese side is awaiting the visit of newly elected PM Shehbaz Sharif or a formal request from him. Pakistan requires these dollar inflows immediately because they are being depleted at an accelerated pace,” said the official.

On an immediate basis, the revival of the IMF programme is not an easy task mainly because there have been massive slippages in internal and external accounts of the economy and the new government will not be in a position to take tough decisions like hiking fuel and electricity prices as well as additional taxation measures for resumption of the stalled IMF programme.

Read more: IMF to continue providing support to Pakistan after 'new govt is formed'

The yawning budget and current account deficits will further make it impossible to win any lenient attitude from the IMF. The budget deficit stood at Rs2,504 billion or 3.9% of GDP for the first nine months of this fiscal in accordance with provisional estimates, while the Ministry of Finance has projected it to escalate to Rs5,500 billion by June 30, 2022.

Pakistan is left with no other option than to seek more multi-billion-dollar deposits from friendly countries such as China, and Saudi Arabia and commercial loans from a consortium of banks to shore up its dwindling foreign currency reserves.

According to the SBP data released on Thursday, Pakistan’s total liquid foreign reserves stood at $17,028 billion as of April 8, 2022. The break-up of the foreign reserves shows the foreign reserves held by the central bank were $10,84 billion and net foreign reserves held by commercial banks were $6,178 billion. During the week ended on April 8, the SBP reserves decreased by $470 million to $10.84 billion, mainly due to external debt repayments.

Read more: New govt will first renegotiate IMF programme, says PML-N's Miftah Ismail

Yousaf Nazar, former head of Citigroup’s equity investments and author of a book on Pakistan’s economy, said if the current account balance continued to widen beyond the currently projected 4% of the GDP, Pakistan would have to knock on the IMF’s door. “It should immediately take measures to boost reserves by doing swaps with friendly central banks if it can.”

Simultaneously, Nazar suggested the new government should consider doing (foreign) debt to equity swaps with China to reduce external debt and improve the performance of state-owned entities.

“These measures will need to be supported at the highest level of the government and it will be helpful if the prime minister could talk to Chinese and Saudi governments and engage with the top officials of the IMF at the earliest,” he said.

Read more: Going back to the IMF

Nazar, however, termed them as short-term measures. “In the longer term, we must strive to attract investments in export-oriented industries and reduce energy dependence on imported fuel,” he added.