Pakistanis advised to drink less tea as country grapples with economic crisis

Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal told reporters Tuesday that Pakistanis could cut their tea consumption by “one or two cups” a day as imports put additional financial strain on the government.

“The tea we import is imported on credit,” Iqbal said, adding that businesses should also close earlier to save energy.

The South Asian country of 220 million is the world’s largest tea importer, purchasing more than $640 million in 2020. Observatory of Economic Complexity.

Pakistan has been facing serious economic problems for several months, which has led to rising prices for food, gas and oil.

Meanwhile, its foreign exchange reserves are rapidly shrinking. Funds held by the central bank fell from $16.3 billion at the end of February to just over $10 billion in May, a drop of more than $6 billion and enough to cover the cost of two months of imports, according to Reuters.

Many in Pakistan have ridiculed Iqbal’s call on social media, saying that reducing tea consumption will do little to alleviate the country’s economic woes.

The economic crisis in Pakistan has been at the center of a political standoff between the prime minister Shehbaz Sharif and his predecessor Imran Khan earlier that year, leading to Khan’s ouster in April.

Sharif accused Khan of mismanaging the economy and mismanaging the country’s foreign policy, which forced Khan to leave office in a vote of no confidence.

Coming to terms with the growing economic crisis has become a challenge for Sharif’s government.

Last month, Pakistan banned imports of essentials and luxuries to “control rising inflation, stabilize foreign exchange reserves, strengthen the economy and reduce the country’s dependence on imports,” Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said at a May 19 press conference.

Sharif said at the time that the decision would “save the country precious foreign exchange” and that Pakistan should “practice austerity measures”.

In late May, the government lifted a cap on fuel prices, a condition for a long-stalled bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Last week, the government unveiled a new $47 billion budget for 2022-2023 in an attempt to persuade the IMF to restart the $6 billion bailout deal agreed by both parties in 2019.

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