ISLAMABAD - The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has expressed concerns on the weakening of the macroeconomic situation, including a widening of external and fiscal imbalances, a decline in foreign exchange reserves, and increased risks to Pakistan’s economic and financial outlook and its medium term debt sustainability.

“Pakistan’s near-term outlook for economic growth is broadly favorable. Real GDP is expected to grow by 5.6 percent in FY 2017/18, supported by improved power supply, investment related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), strong consumption growth, and ongoing recovery in agriculture. Inflation has remained contained,” the IMF stated after its Executive Board meeting on the first Post-Programme Monitoring Discussions with Pakistan.

The government had projected the economy to grow at 6 percent during current fiscal year. However, the Fund projected 5.6 percent growth, which would be highest in last one decade. Similarly, the IMF has also observed that continued erosion of macroeconomic resilience could put this outlook at risk.

Following significant fiscal slippages last year, the fiscal deficit is expected at 5.5 percent of GDP this year, with risks towards a higher deficit ahead of upcoming general elections. Earlier, the government had projected the budget deficit at 4.1 percent of the GDP for the ongoing financial year. However, later, the government had upward revised the budget deficit target to 5 percent of the GDP. But the IMF has now estimated that deficit would go to 5.5 percent of the GDP during current fiscal year due to expected increase in expenditure due to upcoming general elections.

Surging imports have led to a widening current account deficit and a significant decline in international reserves despite higher external financing. The FY2017/18 current account deficit could reach 4.8 percent of GDP, with gross international reserves further declining in a context of limited exchange rate flexibility. Against the background of rising external and fiscal financing needs and declining reserves, risks to Pakistan’s medium-term capacity to repay the Fund have increased since completion of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) arrangement in September 2016.

The IMF’s directors took note of Pakistan’s favorable growth momentum, but noted with concern the weakening of the macroeconomic situation, including a widening of external and fiscal imbalances, a decline in foreign exchange reserves, and increased risks to Pakistan’s economic and financial outlook and its medium term debt sustainability. In this context, they urged a determined effort by the authorities to refocus near term policies to preserve macroeconomic stability.

Directors welcomed the authorities’ move to allow some exchange rate adjustment last December, but stressed the importance of greater exchange rate flexibility on a more permanent basis to preserve external buffers and improve competitiveness. They also encouraged the authorities to phase out administrative measures aimed at supporting the balance of payments as soon as conditions allow to minimize potential economic distortions.

Directors noted that the external sector pressures are in part linked to the fiscal deterioration during the last fiscal year and an accommodative monetary policy stance, as well as the high imports related to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor projects. They called on the authorities to strengthen fiscal discipline through additional revenue measures and efforts to contain current expenditure while protecting pro poor spending. Complementing the recent increase in the policy interest rate with further monetary tightening would be important to address inflationary risks and help reverse external imbalances. Directors also emphasized the need for prudent debt management and caution in phasing in new external liabilities, and the urgency of tackling rising fiscal risks stemming from continued losses in public sector enterprises.

Directors underscored the importance of accelerating structural reforms to reinforce macroeconomic stability, raise competitiveness, and promote higher and more inclusive growth. They highlighted the need to strengthen the fiscal federalism, monetary and financial policy frameworks; further enhance the AML/CFT regime; improve the business climate; continue to strengthen governance; achieve cost recovery in the energy sector; and expand social safety nets to protect the most vulnerable.