Traders on strike across Pakistan over new IMF-proposed taxes

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Pakistani labourers speak on a mobile phone in a shuttered market during a traders countrywide strike against the prices hike, in Lahore on July 13, 2019. (AFP)
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A wholesale market located in Bolton Market is photographed with shutters down during a strike called by traders against what they say is a harsh federal budget for the fiscal year 2019-20 and imposition of taxes by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) in Karachi, Pakistan July 13, 2019. (Photo AN)
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Wholesale shops located in Bolton Market photographed with shutters down during a strike called by traders and the business community against what they say is a harsh federal budget for the fiscal year 2019-20 and imposition of taxes by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) in Karachi, Pakistan July 13, 2019. (Photo AN)
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A hardware market on Karachi’s MA Jinnah Road is closed during a shutter down strike called by the business community against what they say is a harsh federal budget for the fiscal year 2019-20, and imposition of new taxes by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) in Karachi, Pakistan July 13, 2019. (Photo AN)
Updated 15 July 2019

Traders on strike across Pakistan over new IMF-proposed taxes

  • Almost 90% wholesale markets remained shut in Karachi, strikes in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Multan
  • Protests underline pressures on government which has had to impose strict austerity measures to bolster public finances

KARACHI: Markets and wholesale merchants across Pakistan remained shut on Saturday in a strike against what traders have called ‘unjustified measures’ taken in the federal budget announced by the government last month, ostensibly as part of prior actions prescribed by the International Monetary Fund’s recent $6 billion bailout package.
While not all business associations joined the strike, the shutdown highlights the pressures facing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, which came to power last year promising millions of new jobs and welfare measures to help the poor. Instead, it is having to impose tough austerity measures after being forced to turn to the IMF.
Kashif Chaudhry, the president of the Markazi Tanzeem-e-Tajran Pakistan (Central Organization of Traders), called the strike a “historical” one, saying markets were closed from the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province all the way to Karachi, the capital of the southern Sindh province.
“Closure [of markets] on a single day costs the country Rs4 billion only in the city of Karachi,” said Atiq Mir, chairman of the Karachi Tajir Itehad, an umbrella group of the city’s trade associations. “Accumulated losses would be around Rs50 billion across the country.”
Traders say they are striking against a complex new system of value added taxes, discretionary powers of tax officials, a complicated income tax system and unreal tax rates. Under the measures proposed by the IMF, the government has also agreed to close loopholes and preferential rates in sales tax on sugar, steel, edible oils and medium and large retailers, hitting many businesses.
Traders are also protesting a new condition imposed by the government that customers who spend more than Rs50,000 will have to present National Identity cards.
Shabbar Zaidi, the chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue, Pakistan’s main tax collecting agency, said on Friday the condition to present ID cards would help the government identify tax dodgers in a nation where less than 1 percent of the population of 208 million even files income tax returns.
Responding to the protests, de facto information minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said the government was ready for negotiations and considered traders its partners, but warned those who were protesting due to a “political agenda.”
“We have no political ambitions, our cause is only the traders’ cause,” Kashif Chaudhry of the Markazi Tanzeem-e-Tajran Pakistan said. “We have offered talks many times and we are still ready to talk.”
Traders in Karachi, the main commercial hub of the country, said 90 percent of the city’s wholesale markets were closed, causing the city billions in losses.
Similar strikes were called in other big business centers including the eastern city of Lahore, Rawalpindi, near the capital Islamabad, and Multan, home to a major ceramics industry.


Pakistani FM, Saudi envoy discuss regional issues

Updated 28 November 2019

Pakistani FM, Saudi envoy discuss regional issues

  • Ambassador Nawaf discussed bilateral ties with FM Qureshi
  • Earlier this week, Prince Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud visited Islamabad

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Ambassador Nawaf Saeed Al Malki met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad on Wednesday to discuss regional issues of mutual interest, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy good relations and have established long-term programs of strategic cooperation over the past few decades.

Earlier this week, Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud visited Islamabad and met with Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The Saudi prince’s visit was related to his charity projects in Pakistan, for which the prime minister expressed his appreciation, underscoring the uniqueness of Pakistani-Saudi ties, the PM’s office said in a statement after the meeting on Tuesday.