The All Pakistan Business Forum has expressed dissatisfaction over the financial package announced by the government for industry to deal with the challenges posed by coronavirus, saying mere statements would not work unless solid measures are taken by the government including sizable reduction in fuel prices, bringing down key policy rate to 3%, regionally competitive energy rates and substantial cut in duties & taxes.

The APBF office-bearers, in their National Board meeting held here today with a view to deliberate the pre and post Covid-19 effects on trade and industry, called for concrete steps to keep industrial wheels running especially of SMEs, saving the livelihood of millions of workers associated with the small and medium industries.

The National Board unanimously passed a resolution, asking the government to announce a soft financing with maximum markup of 3 percent for SMEs to meet the operational charges, employees salaries, building rental and utility cost, as the rest of the world has been providing loans at zero percent interest to bail out their collapsing businesses.

The meeting was attended and addressed by APBF patron-in-chief Haroon Khawaja, Chairman Ibrahim Qureshi, President Syed Maaz Mahmood, Amir Munir, Aamir Ata Barry, Haroon Ali, Yaqoob Saifi, M. Naeem, Dr. Azam Chohan, Ms. Moin Bashir, Wasim Zakaria, Dr. Saman Yazdani Khan and Nadeem Sheikh. The APBF National Board members were representing all trade and industrial sectors of four provinces of the country.

The participants of the meeting, on this occasion, hailed the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to extend debt relief to the poor countries, including Pakistan, to free up their resources for the Covid-19 related challenge. The meeting ensured that the APBF would continue to play its outstanding role at this testing time and support the state machinery to check the coronavirus.

Addressing the meeting, APBF patron-in-chief Haroon Khawaja, observed that it is yet another brilliant opportunity that Allah has provided to Pakistan to become self-reliant.

“We, as a nation, are gifted with every resource. Now only we need is the leadership and a team of few competent and selfless Pakistanis, who are ‘sons of soil’ and knows how Pakistan works.”

Haroon Khawaja reiterated that this is perhaps the best time to put ‘The Pakistan Plan’ to implementation- a homegrown, thoroughly researched and successfully tested plan made by Pakistanis and for Pakistanis.

APBF Chairman Ibrahim Qureshi said that with a view to save the economy from the impacts of the slowdown due to the COVID-19 the government should announce special incentives for a cash-strapped Small and Medium Industry, which represents more than 90 percent of around 3.2 million business enterprises in Pakistan, contributing 40 percent to the GDP, employing more than 80 percent of non-agricultural workforce, and generating 25 percent of export earnings.

He said other countries are combating the situation through massive injection of funds through outright grants, ensuring availability of cheap credit to the industry and deferment of all government dues and taxes. Ibrahim Qureshi criticized that the reduction of just 2 percent interest rate was not enough, as many countries all around the world have reduced their interest rates to zero level.

APBF President Syed Maaz Mahmood, on the occasion, expressed his concern for not passing on full relief to the public of oil price cut in the global market, which has nosedived, plunging to their lowest level in history due to slump in demand amidst coronavirus pandemic.

“It is unfortunate that the government instead of providing full relief to the consumers increased GST and petroleum levy fuel sale. He added that the government should bring down the prices of the petroleum products to at least Rs70 per litre by announcing another cut of Rs30 per liter to provide some visible relief to the people. The current relief is not enough keeping in view of magnitude of the crisis and the authorities will have to take more steps to give maximum relief to the poverty-stricken people.

Government incentives for the export industry is appreciable but the same benefits should also be extended to the small and medium enterprises (SMEs), he observed.

APBF Lahore Board president Amir Munir suggested that the government should have waived of the utility bills for local industry as announcement of just installments would ultimately add up to the financial burden of SMEs. He said that the industrial and commercial users of electricity were not given any concession yet.

Other participants of the meeting raised their concern over the complicated system of obtaining loans from the banks for the SMEs. They observed that private lending to the SMEs was not encouraging and the SBP needed to take regulatory measures in this regard.