The writer is the former Advisor to the Prime Minister on Textiles.
Pakistan is among the countries whose economy has come to a grind due to the coronavirus pandemic. The virus has affected countries to a varying extent. We have scare resources, our economy was weak even before the outbreak, unemployment was above 5 percent, and more than fifty percent of the population lives below the poverty.
Under these extreme circumstances, the lockdown is an ever greater challenge as industries are closed, workers are furloughed and daily wagers are losing their livelihoods. This poses a tough dilemma for the government as it has to close down businesses and industries and enforce a strict lockdown to stop the spread of the virus. This creates more trouble for the labour class; if they survive coronavirus, they may die from hunger.
There is a need for a two-pronged strategy to deal with the crisis. Along with saving people from the coronavirus, there should be efforts to address the economic aftermath of the lockdown. We are undergoing a difficult period and our hospitality is appreciated around the world. The upcoming holy month of Ramazan provides an opportunity to help others and receive blessings from the Al-Mighty. The nation has overcome all trials that came its way and will emerge from the crisis.
The sudden lifting of the lockdown will create more trouble. The only prevention against the coronavirus up till now is complete lockdown to get the desired results. It could be disastrous if the lockdown is lifted too early as all efforts could be wasted. Even if the lockdown in Sindh is lifted, businesses would require Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) before they resume operation.
The textile industry is not just a mill but has several allied and integrated industries. If the textile industry is reopened, then composite units will also need to be opened to provide the required raw materials. The textile industry is facing immense losses as exports are halted and more than 6,000 containers are lying idle at Karachi ports. As the global economy has come to a standstill, trade has also stopped and ships are not reaching our shores. These losses will be hard to overcome and the textile industry is on the verge of disaster.
The State Bank of Pakistan should step forward and help the textile industry. The textile industry has to pay back loans and employee’s salaries. Small businesses lack resources to pay their dues without any production. Large businesses may have paid the salaries for this month but they are worried about the future as well. It is time to pay them from the benevolent fund, trusts, EOBI and pension funds which are being misused.
Around 38 percent of the workforce is linked with the textile sector which provides $25 billion in exports. The global lockdown has dropped orders which have affected at least half of exports. The industry also suffers from a higher interest rate unlike other neighbouring countries as it increases the price of products and Pakistan loses its competitive edge. This is the main reason industrialists have failed to increase exports in the country.
Despite all hurdles, the textile industry plays a pivotal role in the nation’s economy and could rebound if they are given the required resources. The coronavirus has not affected the economy, stopped trade, and ground airplanes but has altered our way of life. The world would have changed when the pandemic subsides and people would prefer to stay indoors and work from home.