June 16 (BBC) – People in Pakistan have been asked to reduce the amount of tea they drink to keep the country’s economy afloat.
Sipping fewer cups a day would cut Pakistan’s high import bills, senior minister Ahsan Iqbal said.
The country’s low foreign currency reserves – currently enough for fewer than two months of all imports – have left it in urgent need of funds.
Pakistan is the world’s largest importer of tea, buying in more than $600m (£501m) worth last year.
“I appeal to the nation to cut down the consumption of tea by one to two cups because we import tea on loan,” Mr Iqbal said, according to Pakistani media.
Business traders could also close their market stalls at 20:30 to save electricity, he suggested.
The plea came as Pakistan’s foreign currency reserves continue to fall rapidly – putting pressure on the government to cut high import costs and keep funds in the country.
The request to reduce tea drinking has gone viral on social media, with many doubting the country’s serious financial problems can be addressed by cutting out the caffeinated beverage.
Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves dropped from around $16bn (£13.4bn) in February to less than $10bn (£8.3bn) in the first week of June, barely enough to cover the cost of two months of all its imports.
Last month officials in Islamabad restricted the import of dozens of non-essential luxury items as part of their bid to protect funds.
The economic crisis is a major test for the government of Shehbaz Sharif, who replaced Imran Khan as Pakistan’s prime minister in a parliamentary vote in April.
Shortly after being sworn in, Mr Sharif accused Imran Khan’s outgoing government of mismanaging the economy and said putting it back on track would be a huge challenge.
Last week his cabinet unveiled a fresh $47bn (£39bn) budget aimed at convincing the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to restart a stalled $6bn (£5bn) bailout programme.
The IMF deal was negotiated in 2019 to ease an economic crisis created by low foreign currency reserve supplies and years of stagnating growth – but was later paused after lenders questioned Pakistan’s finances.