Budget and growth trajectories
As the budget for the fiscal year 2018-19 is to be announced soon, Pakistan has to look towards the sectors which showed growth in the recent past and can provide further prospects in the future. Pakistan has observed remarkable growth in services sector over the last few years. This is mainly attributed to information technology, real estate, education and health services and transport storage and communication. The share of services sector in GDP has increased considerably, and now this sector also absorbs the majority of the labour force.
However, challenges are being confronted by the services sector which includes weak investment in services exports development. The underlying issues such as skill development still exist owing to lack of investment in education and training activities. Human resource development is an essential part of the growth of services sector for which education and technical and vocational education is vital. The budget must allocate sufficient amount for promoting HRD to ensure skill development.
IT exports can provide valuable revenues to Pakistan as the sector possesses enormous potential. Growing number of startups based on IT is an example of future growth trajectory for Pakistan. However, the government has to address the unnecessary regulations for this sector to bring down the cost of doing business as currently multiple taxes and tariffs are imposed on IT industry which affects the competitiveness. The reduction in taxes on IT sector in budget 2018-19 will surely help in boosting the exports.
There is a growing demand for houses in Pakistan as there is a shortage of around 10 million housing units and with each passing year, this demand is increasing.
The government should improve the policy regarding housing, whereas effective regulatory measures should be taken to address this gap. This will not only ensure the residence for the lower and middle-income households but also boost the economic activity as many of the sectors are involved in the construction activities.
Underlying issues such as lack of skill development still exist owing to lack of investment in education and training activities
The government should look into providing access to basic services including energy, water and sanitation. Health issues need to be addressed with the provision of clean water and sanitation facilities. The scaling up of investment in critical infrastructure is need of the hour to bridge the infrastructure gap. The size of development expenditures in the budget must take into account the population and demand.
Agriculture is still the key sector of Pakistan employing majority of the labour force. Value-added and agro-processing industry can be the baseline for Pakistan to increase export revenues. Pakistan should also tap the Chinese market for exports, and items including cotton, fish, rice and hides and skin can be exported towards China with the attention of the government. Fish exports have increased during last year, and by promoting research and development activities and with value-addition, further growth can be ensured. Halal meat is another area which has immense export potential.
Water is the indispensable requirement for the agriculture sector, and new reservoirs are immediately required. Investment in reservoirs will not only satisfy the agriculture demand for water but also adds to the capacity for generating energy. Development of rural infrastructure is also required for which the next budget must allocate the sufficient resources. Investment has been made under CPEC for improving storage facilities for agriculture products which will be helpful in controlling crop losses.
All these sectors require extensive public investment for a sustained period, and the initiatives must be added in the upcoming budget. As Dr Vaqar Ahmed in his book ‘Pakistan’s Agenda for Economic Reforms’ also stressed on the fact that public investment enhances the economic growth. Growth targets for next years can only be achieved by setting right priorities, and the budget 2018-19 must reflect the same for meeting the targets.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.