WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is leading a high-level delegation to the United States, held a string of meetings here on Monday focusing on enhanced economic cooperation between the two countries.
Addressing a gathering of prominent business leaders at the US-Pakistan Business Council at the US Chamber of Commerce, he pledged an investment-friendly and secure environment and invited American entrepreneurs to avail the tremendous business opportunities Pakistan offers.
Premiere Sharif sought American investment, particularly in the energy sector to help Islamabad meet its exponential development requirements, and access of textile products to the US markets. He spoke about his countries demographic and geographical strengths and citied his government’s important reforms and policies to put country’s economy on sound footing.
The Premiere is due to meet President Barack Obama to discuss a broad range of cooperative ties on Wednesday. Ahead of the White House meeting, he will also discuss ways to strengthen bilateral economic and security relations with Vice President Joseph Biden.
Earlier, on Monday US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz called on PM Sharif and discussed bilateral cooperation in the energy sector. US Trade Representative Michael Froman also called on the prime minister on Monday and discussed ways to enhance bilateral cooperation.
The prime minister is being assisted during the talks by Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Syed Tariq Fatemi and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who hosted a dinner in honour of Premier Sharif soon after his arrival Sunday afternoon, said the US “relationship with Pakistan could not be more important” as he underscored Pakistan’s vital significance to regional stability. And, the US State Department said it has asked Congress to resume more than $300 million in blocked security assistance to the allied country.
Nawaz Sharif at the dinner meeting emphasised the need for Pakistan and the US to work together to meet the common challenges of extremism and terrorism. Speaking to top American national security advisers at the State Department, Sharif said he looked forward to his meeting with President Obama for discussions on a wide array of subjects, according to a press release of Pakistan Embassy. But the press release contained no specific mention of the issue of US drone strikes that the prime minister had repeatedly vowed to raise at his meetings with American officials.
At Monday’s US-Pakistan Business Council event, which was also attended by US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson and US Coordinator for Non-military Assistance Ambassador Robin Raphel, Nawaz Sharif said Pakistan wanted good relations with the US “that can benefit the peoples of both countries”.
“It is true that there have been difficulties in recent past… Happily, we have been able to put the relationship back on a stable and upward trajectory.”
Miles Young, Chairman of the US-Pakistan Business Council, and Worldwide CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, welcomed PM Sharif and said Pakistan’s proximity to regional markets, a large hardworking workforce and huge economic potential make it an important country for international private businesses.
Young called for the creation of US-Pakistan Business Forum to discuss practical issues. On Business Investment Treaty, he said conclusion of such a treaty would spur the confidence of American investors and provide a positive framework for business.
Prime Minister Sharif said there are few places in the world that so uniquely offer the promise of land, geography and people, as does Pakistan. Citing demographic advantages, he said nearly “60 percent of our population is under the age of thirty”. By 2025, Pakistan will be one of the six countries in the world with a 100 million strong middle class, he added.
In the regional perspective, he said Pakistan’s proximity to two of the world’s largest markets – China and India – places it right in the middle of where all the action is going to be in the years to come. Sharif also informed the gathering of the government’s steps, taken to fix the broken economy and meet energy requirements. He said they have embarked upon a clear roadmap of bringing macro-economic stability in Pakistan in next three years.
“By fiscal year 2016, our targets include GDP growth at over 6%, investment to GDP at 20%, fiscal deficit to cut to half at 4%, public debt to be brought within statutory limit of under 60% and through enhancing tax net and improving fiscal governance to increase tax GDP to 13%”, he said. “We also have a target to double our national forex reserves to $20 billion by fiscal year 2016”, he added.
On addressing the security situation, the prime minister said:“It is now my personal mission to push and prod all those who can and must contribute in building peace and enforcing the writ of the State, be it in Karachi, Quetta or FATA, or any other part of Pakistan.”
Referring to historic democratic transition in Pakistan, the Prime Minister said this transition is not taking place in vacuum. “In fact, it is a reflection of growing institutional strength and consolidation.” He said, “Our media enjoys complete freedom; our judiciary is independent, and our civil society proactive and well-informed.
Collectively, they empower the democratically elected leadership and hold it to vigorous accountability and scrutiny, he added. “With all the institutions of State committed to upholding the Constitution, observing the law and abiding by due process, we see the dawn of a new era in Pakistan.”
Even during the more difficult times, he pointed out, Pakistan witnessed growth, both in the financial sector and consumer spending. The explosive growth of our IT sector further illustrates this point, he added. He said “The entrepreneurial ability of our middle class gives us another reason for hope and optimism. They have been our economy’s backbone.”
The Prime Minister said : “Clearly, Pakistan is an upcoming emerging market. In fact, such multi-nationals as Uni-Lever, Colgate-Palmolive and Nestle Pakistan, have all made record profits
in recent years. “Their experience, as most of them will tell you, has been exceptionally rewarding. This has encouraged other enterprises to expand their investments in Pakistan”, he added.
“The energy that will fuel growth in the region and beyond, is also in abundance not just up north of Pakistan in the largely untapped and locked Central Asia, but also down South in Iran, the Gulf and the Middle East”, he added. Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif said, is making the required national investments and attracting more from overseas to develop trade and energy corridors, linking the ports in the South to Northern Pakistan and onwards to China, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
“In particular, firm decisions have already been taken on a number of major power projects totaling around 10,000 MW that would be able to meet the supply demand gap in power sector’, he added. Other ambitious projects such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, the Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline, the Central Asia South Asia (CASA)-1000 electricity project, Pakistan- China Economic Corridor, the Torkham-Jalalabad Road and the Kunar Power Project, should give a good idea of what is possible and what is being done already, he said.
He said : “The initial contours of our national security and counterterrorism strategy have already been given shape. We are closely consulting with the political parties and other stakeholders, to secure their support for full and effective implementation of the strategy.
“While dealing firmly with the challenges of terrorism and extremism across the country, we are also keeping the doors open for those who are willing to be reconciled with. The All Parties Conference (APC) has fully endorsed this approach and promised complete support.
The government, he said, has settled inherited energy circular debt. “Consequently, we have succeeded in adding 1700 MW of electity to the national grid. Moreover, financial plans are being finalized to begin work on Diamer Bhasha and Dasu hydel power projects, as well as few wind and solar projects.”
He said the government have also devised, with consensus, a new National Power Policy, geared to mitigate power shortfalls and eventually eliminate load shedding; given a budget together with 3 years macro-economic stability programme, launched a fiscal austerity drive to curb non-developmental expenditure; negotiated a programme with IMF support package amounting to $ 6.6 billion, consistent with our national priorities and concluded a number of major agreements, designed to promote regional connectivity.
Consequently, FDI has started to inflow again, he added. “This is best reflected in the latest survey conducted by
Overseas Investors Chamber, according to which business confidence has improved 36 points - from 34% negative in August 2012 to 2% positive in August 2013. The recent favourable comments by Moody’s and S&P.”
He also told the gathering that his government is determined to pursue regional peace and security.” We seek good neighborly relations with India, Afghanistan and the rest of the countries in the region”. “No region has lagged as far behind in the world as South Asia. To lift our people out of poverty, we must first of all establish peace in the region”, he added.
“With Afghanistan, I have assured President Karzai who visited Islamabad last month, that Pakistan supports an Afghan led and Afghan owned reconciliation process”, he said. Pakistan will do all it can, to support the realization of peace and stability in Afghanistan, as we believe that a peaceful, stable and united Afghanistan is a pre-requisite, for a peaceful and stable Pakistan”, he added.