Remittance is keeping the Nepali economy afloat
The recent economic meltdown in Nepal began after the outbreak of Covid-19. The Russia-Ukraine war has made it worse. Amid questionable claims about the economic recovery, the government has not been doing much to address this crisis even as both imports and exports decline, taking a toll on revenue collection.
In the name of doing something, the government is taking huge loans to cover up the expenses, causing a surge in debt from both internal and external sources.
Worryingly, most of this debt services the unproductive sector while the masses remain deprived of daily necessities as if rampant corruption at every level of polity were not enough.
Due to declining demands, industrial production has suffered as overall negative growth of the business and industries sector shows. While some of the businesses and industries have been operating at a loss, most of them have shut down. The meltdown in the productive sector, which employs a large number of people, means a steep rise in unemployment.
Loss of jobs reduces people’s incomes and purchasing power goes down with it. Consumers do not even have money to buy the daily necessities, which means a decline in the demand for consumer goods.
Banks, grappling with a liquidity crisis, are unable to provide loans to business, manufacturing, real estate and auto sectors. Construction works are getting delayed. Government revenue collection is declining and not enough even to meet the regular expenditure.
Meanwhile, the cost of manufacturing goods is going up, possibly due to a rise in the cost of labor and raw materials. When the price of a commodity increases, its demand falls. At the time of falling demands, businesses and industries cannot sell their products by lowering their prices. If they do so, they have to bear huge losses. In a similar manner, a shortage of goods in the market can push their prices up.
When consumers cut expenses, the revenue of business and manufacturing establishments dips, negatively affecting production and productivity. Such a scenario can cause inflation, which Nepal is facing already. While banks are raising interest rates, business establishments are not taking loans. This means that recession has set in.
The consumer price index (CPI) is rising with prices hitting a new high as latest data from the Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) show. In the fiscal year 2021/22, , CPI stood at 6.32 percent, while it climbed to 7.74 percent in FY 2022/23.
Data from the central bank suggest that both export and import have been declining over the years. The imports stood at Rs 19bn and Rs 16bn in FY 2021/22 and 2022/23 respectively, while the export figures in both the fiscals were almost the same. These declining figures also mean that the trade deficit has gone down. In the FY 2021/22, trade deficit was Rs 17bn it came down to Rs 14bn in FY 2022/23, narrowed down by Rs 3bn.
A deficit balance of payment in FY 2021/22 by Rs 3bn has been turned into surplus by the same amount in FY 2022/23. Evidently, the foreign exchange reserve has increased from Rs 12bn in 2021/22 to Rs 15bn in 2022/23. Export and import are the major sources of government revenues. Plummeting government revenues can affect the government’s capacity to spend, taking a toll on development activities. This means a government has to take loans even to cover daily or monthly expenses.
Nepal is not self-reliant even in food production. It has to import on a large scale to feed its citizens. India has banned the export of paddy in recent days. The government is in a rush to request India to supply rice to Nepal even as millions of hectares of farmlands remain barren both in the hills and the Tarai Madhes, mainly due to the absence of irrigation facilities and a shortfall of human resources, among other factors. With farmlands lying fallow, the share of the farm sector to GDP has been declining over the years. Improvement in the agri sector is a must also for sustainable development.
Industrial activities are melting down. Agriculture activities are also on a downward trend and so are business activities. Clearly, the Nepali economy is unwell.
Which sector has been playing an active role even in this grim scenario to keep the economy afloat?
There is only one sector, which has stood as a source of livelihoods for the Nepali people and that is the foreign employment sector. A large number of Nepali youths are migrating in search of livelihood of late. They are sending increasing amounts of money to their families living in Nepal. In FY 2021/22, Nepal received Rs 10.7bn in remittances, while in the FY 2022/23, it received a whopping Rs 12.2bn, an increase of 21.2 percent. This proves that remittance is a major source of foreign exchange and livelihood for the Nepali people.
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