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Bloomberg lauds PM Sheikh Hasina for reforms to maintain economic stability

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The globally famed Bloomberg news agency has praised Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her “timely reform steps” to negate the impacts of the worldwide economic crisis in Bangladesh, predicting the initiatives to elect her government for the fourth straight term in the next general elections.

“She is expected to win a fourth straight term in the elections,” BSS reports quoting Bloomerg’s article, which simultaneously suggests Sheikh Hasina “needs to push more reforms to receive all funds.”

“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is widely expected to win a fourth straight term in national polls expected by January 2024 — not least because many of her opponents are behind bars or ensnared in legal cases”.

Bloomberg published the article against the backdrop of Bangladesh’s receipt of International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans which it attributed to the South Asian country’s timely reforms to maintain economic stability ahead of the next national election.

The article commented that Sheikh Hasina’s victory was expected not merely “because many of her opponents are behind bars or ensnared in legal cases” but due to her success in ensuring economic stability.

Following is the full Bloomberg article headlined “Bangladesh Leader Bets IMF-Mandated Rigor Will Pay Off in Polls” with two sub-heads:

Sheikh Hasina needs to push more reforms to receive all funds

She is expected to win a fourth straight term in the elections

Government leaders across the world have often balked at implementing reforms agreed with the International Monetary Fund for fear of being penalized at the ballot box. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina isn’t one of them.

Her quick execution of IMF mandates have stood out in South Asia where Pakistan is still fiddling with fuel subsidies just as it inches closer to reviving a bailout. Sri Lanka has delayed local municipal polls as it raised taxes and interest rates to clinch IMF funds last week.

Bangladesh, which in July became the last of the three countries to ask for IMF support, was the first to get loans approved after swiftly raising energy prices. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made no apologies for the move.

“Gas and electricity supply can be provided if all agree to pay the purchasing costs,” she said a week $4.7 billion in IMF loans were secured on Jan. 31. “How much subsidy can be given? And why should we continue subsidies?”

Such comments are typically unheard of as elections approach: All three nations face key votes over the next 18 months. But unlike leaders in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, PM Sheikh Hasina is widely expected to win a fourth straight term in national polls expected by January 2024 — not least because many of her opponents are behind bars or ensnared in legal cases.

“If the ruling party manages to maintain economic stability, that could preempt anger or public sentiment that works against the government,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Center’s South Asia Institute. “PM Sheikh Hasina certainly has the credibility to pull this off.”

In contrast, Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif polled low in a survey ahead of elections later this year and has been blamed by voters for the economic crisis. While Sri Lankan leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has pushed through reforms, he depends on the support of a party run by a powerful clan and will need to seek a new mandate in presidential elections due September 2024.

PM Sheikh Hasina is banking on her government’s move to go to the IMF to show to markets and voters that she has prevented the $460 billion Bangladeshi economy from going the way Sri Lanka has with a default. Pakistan is also facing the prospect of a default.

Bangladesh went to the IMF as it grappled with an energy crisis with commodity prices soaring last year due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, while the rising costs of imports widened the trade deficit. The local currency depreciated by a fifth and reserves fell to the lowest in three years.

By winning access to IMF funds, Sheikh Hasina’s government is gaining some time to fix the economy before the elections. Signs of a weakening economy could well trigger public anger against the premier who has overseen growth of more than 6 pecent on average for the past 14 years though it slowed to about 3.5 percent during the pandemic.

The first review of the IMF program is set for the second half of 2023, and Bangladesh Mission Chief Rahul Anand sees the authorities “taking comprehensive steps” to unwind subsidies and move to a market-driven exchange rate.

Bangladesh has received $476 million under the facility so far. Further disbursements depend on the government ensuring reforms for the financial sector, ranging from the central bank pursuing an independent monetary policy to reducing non-performing loans and spurring climate change funding.

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UK inflation holds at 2% in June: official data

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Britain’s inflation rate held steady in June after returning to the Bank of England’s target the previous month, official data showed Wednesday, confounding expectations for another modest slowdown.

The Consumer Prices Index was unchanged at 2.0 percent in June from the same level in May, the Office for National Statistics said in a statement, compared with market forecasts of 1.9 percent.

“Hotel prices rose strongly, while second-hand car costs fell but by less than this time last year,” said ONS chief executive Grant Fitzner.
“However, these were offset by falling clothing prices, with widespread sales driving down their cost.

“Meanwhile, the cost of both raw materials and goods leaving factories fell on the month, though factory gate prices remain above where they were a year ago.”

Analysts said the data could cause the Bank of England to sit tight for a while longer before starting to cut interest rates.

“The chances of an interest rate cut in August have diminished a bit more,” said Paul Dales, chief UK economist at research consultancy Capital Economics.

Last month, the BoE kept its key interest rate at a 16-year high of 5.25 percent, despite slowing inflation in May.

Britain’s newly elected Labour government welcomed news that inflation remained at the BoE’s target level.

“It is welcome that inflation is at target,” said Darren Jones, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in a statement.

“But we know that for families across Britain prices remain high… (which) is why this government is taking the tough decisions now to fix the foundations” of the UK economy, he said.

Labour, led by new Prime Minister Keir Starmer, has pledged immediate action to grow the economy after the centre-left party won a landslide general election victory to end 14 years of Conservative rule.

Later on Wednesday, King Charles III will read out Labour’s first programme for government in a decade and a half, when the UK parliament formally reopens following the July 4 election.
Elevated interest rates have worsened a UK cost-of-living squeeze because they increase borrowing repayments, thereby cutting disposable incomes and crimping economic activity.

The BoE began a series of rate hikes in late 2021 to combat inflation, which rose after countries emerged from Covid lockdowns and accelerated after the invasion of Ukraine by key oil and gas producer Russia.

 

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China’s economy grew less than expected in second quarter: official data

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China’s economy grew 4.7 percent year-on-year in the second quarter of 2024, official data showed Monday, less than analysts had expected.

“By quarter, the GDP for the first quarter increased by 5.3 percent year on year and for the second quarter 4.7 percent,” Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said in a statement.

The figures were much lower than the 5.1 percent predicted by analysts polled by Bloomberg.

Retail sales — a key gauge of consumption — also slowed to just two percent in June, the NBS said, down from 3.7 percent in May.

The world’s second-largest economy is grappling with a real estate debt crisis, weakening consumption, an ageing population and trade tensions with Western rivals.

Top officials are meeting in Beijing on Monday for a key plenum, with all eyes on how they might kickstart lacklustre growth.

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Concerns Mount Over Revenue Loss as South Asia’s Largest Land Port Curtails Operations

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Bangladeshi officials are grappling with fears of revenue loss as the largest land port in South Asia, situated along the India-Bangladesh border, has ceased operations for 10 hours each day since July 11.

The Petrapole Land Port in India, crucial for trade between the two nations, has been shutting down from 6 PM to 8 AM daily, without providing any explanation for the closure, according to officials from the Benapole Land Authority in Bangladesh. This unexpected halt has left Bangladeshi authorities and traders in a state of uncertainty, as there is no indication of when the operations might resume to normalcy.

Industry insiders warn that this disruption could lead to a significant revenue shortfall at Benapole port due to decreased imports, adversely affecting Bangladeshi importers with delayed product deliveries.

Rezaul Karim, Director of Traffic at Benapole Land Port Authority, emphasized that while Benapole has been maintaining 24-hour operations, Petrapole’s recent restrictions are hindering cargo truck movements after evening.

“We have inquired with the Petrapole port authority about the reasons for halting trade services after evening. They responded that the matter is under discussion with relevant authorities,” Karim said.

Sultan Mahmud Bipul, Secretary of Benapole C&F Agent Association International Checkpost Affairs, highlighted the fiscal implications of this disruption. “Benapole port has set a revenue target of Tk6,705 crore from imported goods for the fiscal year 2024-25. If the 24-hour import facility remains discontinued, it will severely impact our revenue targets,” he noted.

Ziaur Rahman, General Secretary of Benapole Landport Importers and Exporters Association, pointed out the severe impact on trade, particularly with perishable goods. “Traders dealing with perishable food products are incurring the biggest losses due to this halt. The inability of goods trucks to enter after evening will widen the trade deficit,” Rahman remarked.

As the situation unfolds, the Benapole Land Port Authority and associated trade bodies continue to seek clarity and resolution from their Indian counterparts to mitigate the economic repercussions of this operational disruption.

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