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LAHORE: After a decade, the provincial government finally launched on Monday the Punjab Economic Report-2017 that focussed on the higher income through gainful employment by creating enough jobs for the rapidly growing population, more precisely, for the millions entering its labour force annually.

The report considers the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as a potential vent for long-term growth of the country in general and Punjab in particular. It admits that since certain segments of the population and geographical areas, especially the southern regions, have historically been served less, a conscious tilt in development expenditures in favour of the more deprived regions should be made to reduce these imbalances.

“A necessary condition for the improved well-being and a better life is a higher income through gainful employment. This means that the economy of Punjab will have to create enough jobs for this rapidly growing population. The private sector generates around 90 per cent of Punjab’s output of goods and services, and is the dominant player in the economy. Thus the Punjab government is aiming to improve economic environment and enhance the capabilities of the private sector,” the report reads.

It says the development of trade routes, energy corridors and associated businesses under CPEC are some of the low-hanging fruits that will materialise if the provincial government has a clear and well-defined economic strategy in coordination with the federal government.

Report boasts of growth and envisages job creation

Eminent economists believe the provincial government needs to focus on increasing production of the major crops - particularly the cotton. They also term unemployment a major challenge and barrier to the sustainable growth.

“I still feel that agriculture is the backbone of the Punjab economy as 70pc of its industry is agro-based, 50pc of the wholesale and retail trade is based on agricultural commodities. Similarly 60pc of the transport movement relates to agricultural commodities. So, overall the agriculture has a 45pc role directly or indirectly in Punjab economy,” said Dr Hafeez Ahmed Pasha while addressing the audience as a keynote speaker at the report-launching ceremony.

He said Punjab, which is aiming to achieve 7 to 8pc growth rate, to double the private investment, employing one million youth and raising the provincial annual development plan to 3.5pc in the provincial GDP, has substantially succeeded in doubling its development spending to 3.5pc of the GDP.

“There is also good news that [Punjab] economy has made a breakthrough of first achieving 5pc growth rate, which is highest in the last 10 years and then crossing the 5.5pc [growth rate] that is highest in the last 11 years. And now the province is near to achieve 6pc growth rate,” he added.

Mr Pasha declared unemployment a most vulnerable area and advised the government to take steps to the effect.

“You will be surprised to hear that one million male youth in Punjab are unemployed. Three million other male youth are idle as they are neither studying nor working anywhere. It means that Punjab has 4m unemployed male youth alone, 50pc of the total unemployed male youth are in south Punjab alone, which is very alarming,” he said.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Ijaz Nabi, country director of International Growth Centre, appreciated the chief minister for providing him an opportunity in preparing the Punjab Growth Strategy-2018 and then subsequently the Punjab Economic Report-2017 in order to understand whether the province is on track to achieve its targets or not.

“In addition to providing an assessment of the PGS-2018, the report also provides an assessment of the opportunities available to the province in terms of CPEC,” he added.

Finance Minister Dr Ayesha Ghaus-Pasha focused on the importance of the province in playing a crucial role in improving lives of the citizens. She reiterated the significance of evidence-based policy making and was of the view that the report would be beneficial for devising strategic development goals.

“Under the growth strategy framework, 2m youth would be provided with adequate education and skills to ensure their employability,” she maintained.P&D Chairman Muhammad Jehanzeb Khan said the province was not only focussing on accelerating economic growth but also on achieving balanced, inclusive and sustainable growth.

“The 7th NFC award has shifted the fiscal balance in favour of the provinces and the 18th amendment has given constitutional rights to the provinces to focus on human development,” he added.

Earlier, Dr Turab Hussain of the Lahore University of Management Science termed the youth bulge a most important challenge to the Punjab economy.

Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2017