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LAHORE: The federal budget for 2017-18 should be free of new taxes, allocate maximum funds for the construction of dams and set aside more money for health and education sectors, experts said at a pre-budget seminar at the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) on Friday.

Double taxation and high import duties should be done away with in the next budget, they said.

Adviser to the Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Arshad said the country’s poor perception is hurting foreign direct investment and economic growth.

LCCI’s former vice-president Aftab Ahmad Vohra said a tax-free budget will help expand the tax net. He said a number of sectors, including infrastructure development, coal, energy, agriculture, livestock, textile and pharmaceutical, offer lucrative investment opportunities to foreign investors. But these opportunities are not availed due to the absence of a well-tailored national marketing strategy, he added.

Columnist Mujib-ur-Rehman Shami stressed upon the need for an increased interaction between the government and the private sector to expedite economic growth. He said the business community should lead the efforts to tackle economic challenges.

Input from the trade sector should be given due consideration during the budget-making process, he said.

LCCI acting president Amjad Ali Jawa said policymakers must listen to the concerns of the business community, which is a main stakeholder in the economy.

“The provision of energy to trade and industry is a top priority in Bangladesh. That’s why its exports are higher than many regional countries,” he said, urging the government to reset its priorities. In order to tackle the energy shortage, the government must allocate maximum funds for the construction of dams, he added.

The LCCI office-bearer said the country’s reliance on costly thermal power is jacking up the cost of production as well as the import bill. The country needs an urgent shift in its energy mix in favour of hydel power and alternative energy resources.

He said increasing tax revenues and a decreasing number of tax filers show the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) is getting more money from existing taxpayers. He said the share of industry in the tax collection has been around 76 per cent, which is affecting its competitive edge and hurting exports.

Other participants urged the FBR to cut duty rates on smuggling-prone items in order to check the illegal flow of goods, which is destroying the local industry. They also stressed upon the need for bringing the untaxed sectors into the tax net. They said new taxes and duties will only hit the existing taxpayers and discourage those who want to come into the tax net.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2017