Pakistan needs IMF bailout, make ‘tough political choices’ — Habib Bank CEO

Residents watch Pakistani Prime Minister Imran’s televised address after his visit to Saudi Arabia last month, where he received a $6 billion rescue package. (AFP)
Updated 06 November 2018
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Pakistan needs IMF bailout, make ‘tough political choices’ — Habib Bank CEO

BEIJING: Pakistan needs to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and make “hard decisions” to avoid going back again, said Muhammad Aurangzeb, chief executive officer of Habib Bank, the country’s biggest lender.
The bank is also urging Pakistan to tap China’s nascent “panda bond” market, which enables oversees issuers to raise yuan-denominated bonds there, as soon as possible after IMF funding is secured.
“They are clearly very interested, because the overall stance the current government has is to move and diversify away from USD into RMB,” Aurangzeb told Reuters in an interview in Beijing on Tuesday.
The potential size of panda bond issuance would be equivalent to $1.5 billion to $2 billion, he said. China Development Bank and China International Capital Corp. would be HBL’s domestic partners on such a project.
Habib Bank received an RMB license from Beijing two weeks ago and is seeking approval to upgrade its representative office in the Chinese capital to a branch as soon as next year, he added.
An IMF rescue package would be Pakistan’s 13th from the multilateral lender since the late 1980s.
“The advantage of a program which IMF brings to the table is that it pushes the government to bring in their fiscal discipline and move with the reform agenda,” Aurangzeb said.
Last month, Pakistan received a $6-billion rescue package from Saudi Arabia, but officials say it still plans to seek a bailout from the IMF to avert a balance of payments crisis.
Pakistan’s foreign reserves have plunged 42 percent since the start of the year to about $8 billion, or less than two months of import cover.
“Both on the fiscal side and on the current account side, some very tough political choices need to be made,” said Aurangzeb.
These include moves to increase the tax base, boost exports — particularly to neighboring China, let the currency find its fair market value, actively work to narrow deficits, and get the structural reforms agenda going, he said.
“If they can do that, they can get on a more sustainable path without relying on the IMF,” Aurangzeb said. “But if they don’t follow through, the likelihood is that there will be another (IMF) program.”
The focus of new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s talks with Beijing is less about debt or loans, and more about increasing investment, industrial activity, exports to China, and the creation of local jobs, Aurangzeb said.
Khan began a visit to China late last week.
Though China is Pakistan’s closest ally, Khan has sought to rethink a signature project, the $60-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship of Beijing’s vast Belt and Road Initiative.


Gulf defense spending ‘to top $110bn by 2023’

Updated 15 February 2019
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Gulf defense spending ‘to top $110bn by 2023’

  • Saudi Arabia and UAE initiatives ‘driving forward industrial defense capabilities’
  • Budgets are increasing as countries pursue modernization of equipment and expansion of their current capabilities

LONDON: Defense spending by Gulf Arab states is expected to rise to more than $110 billion by 2023, driven partly by localized military initiatives by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, a report has found.

Budgets are increasing as countries pursue the modernization of equipment and expansion of their current capabilities, according to a report by analytics firm Jane’s by IHS Markit.

Military expenditure in the Gulf will increase from $82.33 billion in 2013 to an estimated $103.01 billion in 2019, and is forecast to continue trending upward to $110.86 billion in 2023.

“Falling energy revenues between 2014 and 2016 led to some major procurement projects being delayed as governments reigned in budget deficits,” said Charles Forrester, senior defense industry analyst at Jane’s.

“However, defense was generally protected from the worst of the spending cuts due to regional security concerns and budgets are now growing again.”

Major deals in the region have included Eurofighter Typhoon purchases by countries including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Saudi Arabia is also looking to “localize” 50 percent of total government military spending in the Kingdom by 2030, and in 2017 announced the launch of the state-owned military industrial company Saudi Arabia Military Industries.

Forrester said such moves will boost the ability for Gulf countries to start exporting, rather than purely importing defense equipment.

“Within the defense sector, the establishment of Saudi Arabia Military Industries (SAMI) in 2017 and consolidation of the UAE’s defense industrial base through the creation of Emirates Defense Industries Company (EDIC) in 2014 have helped consolidate and drive forward industrial defense capabilities,” he said.

“This has happened as the countries focus on improving the quality of the defense technological work packages they undertake through offset, as well as increasing their ability to begin exporting defense equipment.”

Regional countries are also considering the use of “disruptive technologies” such as artificial intelligence in defense, Forrester said.

Meanwhile, it emerged on Friday that worldwide outlays on weapons and defense rose 1.8 percent to more than $1.67 trillion in 2018.

The US was responsible for almost half that increase, according to “The Military Balance” report released at the Munich Security Conference and quoted by Reuters.

Western powers were concerned about Russia’s upgrades of air bases and air defense systems in Crimea, the report said, but added that “China perhaps represents even more of a challenge, as it introduces yet more advanced military systems and is engaged in a strategy to improve its forces’ ability to operate at distance from the homeland.”