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Faced with a financial crisis at home, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first visit to Saudi Arabia could provide a much needed boost to the country’s political and economic confidence, experts said on Tuesday.
The trip, which began on Tuesday, holds even more significance as Khan is expected to seek $2-$3 billion in economic aid from the Kingdom, with an urgent need to inject around $9 billion into the economy — to stabilize external accounts largely inflated from high imports and insufficient exports. “Pakistan expects an injection of around $2 billion to $3 billion in order to stabilize its foreign reserves position, currency and external balance sheet,” Dr. Bilal Ahmed, senior economic analyst, told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan would largely benefit from the visit, especially if the Kingdom is convinced “to supply oil at concessionary rates which would mitigate pressure on the import bill to a large extent.”
During the last fiscal year, 2017-18, the country’s imports of petroleum stood at $13.27 billion, imported from different countries, including Saudi Arabia. “If Pakistan gets the oil at a deferred payment or at relaxed conditions the issue of the country’s cash will be resolved,” Syed Mazhar Ali Nasir, Senior Vice President of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry — an apex body of Pakistan’s industrialists and traders — told Arab News. Bilateral trade will be another key area of focus.
“We should explore avenues for exports to Saudi Arabia by ending tariff and non-tariff barriers that have decreased the trade of goods and services,” Dr. Ikram ul Haq, a senior economist and expert in legal matters, said.
Despite holding great potential, bilateral trade between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is only $3.4 billion and largely in favor of Saudi Arabia. Pakistan imported $3.1 billion worth of goods from the Kingdom during the fiscal year 2017-18, while exports stood at $316.7 million, data shared by the State Bank of Pakistan showed.
Suggesting new means to explore bilateral trade and investment — by relying less on traditional goods and services – Dr. Haq said: “Pakistan should try to win Saudi contracts for IT services as this is the area where we have potential to earn foreign exchange but we never tried. We must come out of traditional items like textile.”
Agriculture is another sector that Pakistan could tap into to seek Saudi investment through joint ventures, Dr. Haq said: “This area has potential to grow fast and create export surplus. Saudis investors can be lured for modern corporate farming in Pakistan to earn substantial profits.”
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