Pakistan has one of the lowest trade-to-GDP ratios in the world showing at just 30 per cent. However, it is not all doom and gloom and the country has a lot of room for improvement, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
One viable strategy that Pakistan can adopt to boost its growth is to further open its economy to trade. At just 30 percent, Pakistan exhibits one of the lowest trade-to-GDP ratios in the world, even when taking its size into account, the ADB says in its report titled Pakistan’s Economy and Trade in the Age of Global Value Chains.
This indicates great potential for improvement. Studies have affirmed numerous benefits to economic openness, including opportunities for specialisation, access to wider markets, the inflow of know-how, and the formalisation of the economy.
Existing patterns indicate that Pakistan’s trade is currently oriented to the United States, Europe, and China. It specialises in textiles, though some of its agricultural products are sold to the Middle East. Interestingly, it does not have a significant trading relationship with its proximate neighbours in South Asia. The only economy for which it is a major market is its northern neighbour Afghanistan, the report points out.
While the vast majority of its export products fall under the textiles grouping, formal measures of export concentration suggest that Pakistan’s exports basket is relatively more diversified, especially compared with other major textile exporters like Bangladesh and Cambodia. However, its exports are less diversified than India.
The report used statistics from 2019 since 2020 was an unusual year [owing to Covid-19] portraying a snapshot of economic openness across various levels of GDP for 166 countries and economies with available data, and for economic openness of Pakistan, it says it is less open than India and Bangladesh. It is only more open than Ethiopia, Brazil and Sudan.
The ADB says Pakistan is a relatively large country, however its trade openness remains remarkably low. Citing example, it says countries that have GDPs comparable to that of Pakistan but with much higher trade-to-GDP include the Philippines, the Netherlands, and Viet Nam. India’s GDP is almost 10 times larger than Pakistan’s, yet trade plays a greater role in its economy, according to the report.
Pakistan has historically experienced uneven growth and remains among the least open economies in the world, even after taking its relatively large size into account.
What it does export is dominated by textile products and rice, though a formal measure of concentration suggests that its exports basket is on the whole quite diversified.
The dominance of textile products in Pakistan’s exports raises the issue of diversification — or potentially the lack of it. Concentrating too much on only a few sectors or products poses risks to an economy since shocks to the dominant sector can more easily cause an economy-wide recession.
Pakistan can adopt to boost its growth to further open its economy to trade. Benefits to economic openness include opportunities for specialisation, access to wider markets, and the inflow of investments, technology, and know-how. There is also evidence that trade promotes the reallocation of labour from the informal to the formal sector.