Experts highlight key measures to boost Services Sector in Punjab



ISLAMABAD: The services sector has a critical importance for any vibrant economy. However, several steps are required to tap the real potential of sector, especially in Punjab. The experts on economy and investment said this while sharing their views with the participants at online consultative dialogue ‘Better Business Regulation for Services Sector in Punjab’ organized by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Thursday.

Mr Sohail Qadiri, Director (Policy) at Punjab Board of Investment and Trade, while citing the examples of Chinese enterprises that are relocating due to higher labour costs are opting for Mekong countries that are known for quick harmonizing their regulatory regime with China. IT parks can help promote IT enabled businesses which are much desired by the Chinese, he said and added that we need to channel our new graduates towards understanding the needs of Chinese services sector and how to integrate in Chinese value chains.

Group Head at the Bank of Punjab, Mr Khawar Ansari, on the occasion informed the participants that banking services are being innovated to respond to the Covid19-related needs of businesses. However, businesses will need to develop a decent history of using banking channels.

“We would like to see that businesses applying for loan have secured their future cash flows,” Mr Ansari said and added further that we need to be more receptive to venture and angel investors.

Dr Vaqar Ahmed, Joint Executive Director, SDPI, while moderating the dialogue shared the findings of the SDPI’s survey with the participants and said that services sector in Punjab is finding it hard to grow due to difficult access to business premises. Besides, rental spaces; fragmented tax regime demanding compliance with over 3 dozen taxes; and difficulties in accessing running finance and fixed investment sources particularly in Covid19-times, he added.

He said that some other challenges affecting sustainability of services sector firms include  weak access to public procurement opportunities, inadequacy of e-commerce, online and digital payments infrastructure as well as weak linkages with regional and global value chains; and arbitrary imposition of labour, municipal, and environmental laws. He hoped that the government will soon initiate a trade-in-services agreement with China which can bring down costs for Pakistani firms wishing to integrate with Chinese services sector and services sector economic zones under CPEC will be expedited.

Imran Jattala, Director (Innovation) at Lahore Garrison University, was of view that the knowledge of building services businesses and scaling it up is limited to select family groups in Pakistan. The National Incubation Centers but we need more such centers in second-tier cities of Pakistan.

Senior Research Fellow at Punjab Economic Research Institute (PERI) Dr Shehzada Naeem, asserted that the provincial government is trying to improve engagement with business associations to better understand the needs of the private sector in the wake of Covid19.  To boost productivity in the services sector, he emphasized on the importance of improving Pakistan’s ranking in ICT adoption and logistics indicators which are closely watched by foreign investors.

Ms Mahnoor Arshad, researcher on issues faced by women-led enterprises, was of opinion that women-led enterprises have been the hardest hit during Covid19. She said that the learning needs of women businesses need to be explored in after-Covid19 scenario including orientation to online ways of doing business and overcoming constraints to mobility and attracting investors during the pandemic.

Earlier, Mr Ahad Nazir, Head SDPI Center for Private Sector Engagement sharedhis insight on the impacts of Covid19 on the business including the Services Sector and said that the Federal government should streamline regulatory environment whereas e-commerce and cluster based services sector development should be promoted in Punjab.