Egypt's trade deficit rose by more than 10 per cent in March, hitting $4.15 billion compared to $3.77 billion during the same month the previous year, the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) announced yesterday.
In its monthly report, CAPMAS explained that the hike was driven by a 3.9 per cent drop in exports and a 4.3 per cent increase in imports.
CAPMAS pointed out that the country's exports had fallen to $2.58 billion in March, down from $2.68 billion in 2018, attributing the decline to a "7.3 per cent drop in crude exports, 55.5 per cent in fresh oranges, and 0.4 per cent in ready-made garments."
Egypt's Imports rose to $6.73 billion in March, up from $6.45 billion the year before, official agency figures noted, adding that the hike was a result of "a 14.3 per cent increase in plastic imports, 29.8 per cent in chemicals, 18.7 per cent in wheat and five per cent in meat."
The country's trade deficit stood at $37.3 billion in the financial year 2017/18, compared to $35.4 billion the year before.
Egypt has been implementing extensive economic reforms under a $12 billion three-year loan deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which was signed in 2016. It is working to reduce its budget deficit and streamline investment laws, in an attempt to encourage foreign funds. In November 2016, the government floated the Egyptian pound causing inflation to soar. The government has also slashed subsidies and last year, the Treasury announced that it was planning to increase public tax revenues by 131 per cent by 2022.
The government's deficit has shrunk, its national debt burden has begun to fall and foreign exchange buffers have been rebuilt, as President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi's austerity plan has curtailed public spending.
However, the policies have added to the financial woes of many millions of Egyptians living below the poverty line, who have complained of being unable to afford basic necessities since the price jumps.
The impact has been so severe, that it has even prompted popular protests in the heavily surveyed state; last year, in an unprecedented show of digital dissent, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to Twitter to voice their discontent and call for Al-Sisi to step down in the aftermath of fuel and electricity subsidy cuts.