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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is a “high-priority economic investment and business opportunity” for Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom’s Assistant Minister of Investment Ibrahim Al-Mubarak said on Monday, as a two-day Pak-Saudi investment conference kicked off in Islamabad with a focus on business-to-business engagements. 

A 50-member delegation led by Al-Mubarak arrived in Pakistan on Sunday, comprising some 30 Saudi companies from the fields of IT, telecoms, energy, aviation, construction, mining exploration, agriculture and human resource development.

“To the Saudi government and Saudi companies, Pakistan is considered a high-priority economic investment and business opportunity,” Al-Mubarak said as he addressed the investment summit. 

“We believe in the great potential of Pakistan’s economy, demographics and talent as well as location and natural resources.”

Al-Mubarak said this was his second visit to Pakistan in two weeks and many influential leaders from globally renowned Saudi companies were part of his delegation.

“Today, we want to connect you [Pakistan] all to Saudi companies who desire to continue building their international presence, for Saudi Arabia’s ambitions do not stop at our borders and we would like to see Pakistan as one of our leading international partners,” the Saudi official added. 

“So, this gathering provides a wonderful opportunity for them [Saudi companies] to develop a deeper understanding of the great opportunities available for investment in Pakistan and to learn about related regulations, requirements, and incentives.”

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Petroleum Minister Dr Musadik Malik said 125 Pakistani companies were negotiating with the Saudi companies who were visiting Pakistan.

“First, there were government-to-government agreements during the visit of the Saudi foreign minister [last month] and now there will be business-to-business agreements,” he said.

“To facilitate the visiting Saudi companies, the Pakistani commerce ministry has affiliated one focal person with each Saudi company.”

Minister for Commerce Jam Kamal Khan said Pakistani and Saudi companies were discussing joint ventures and collaboration in diverse sectors. 

“This delegation includes high officials of more than 32 Saudi companies … Saudi businessmen will invest in Pakistan in different stages,” Khan said at the press conference. 

“Pakistani companies are present here, in the energy sector, in the food sector, in the construction sector, in the renewable section, in the ports and shipping section, and the IT services and general services.”

He said the visit by the Saudi delegation was “just the beginning” and now a Pakistani delegation would visit the Kingdom “to move forward towards the implementation phase.”

INVESTMENT PUSH

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been closely working in recent weeks to increase bilateral trade and investment deals, with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last month reaffirming the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite an investment package of $5 billion.

The Saudi business delegation’s visit comes on the heels of one by Sharif to Riyadh from Apr. 27-30 to attend a special two-day meeting of the World Economic Forum. 

On the sidelines of the WEF conference, the Pakistani PM met and discussed bilateral investment and economic partnerships with the crown prince and the Saudi ministers of finance, industries, investment, energy, climate, and economy and planning, the adviser of the Saudi-Pakistan Supreme Coordination Council and the presidents of the Saudi central bank and Islamic Development Bank.

This was Sharif’s second meeting with the crown prince in a month. Before that he also met him when he traveled to the Kingdom on April 6-8. The Saudi foreign minister was also in Pakistan last month, a trip during which Pakistan pitched projects worth at least $20 billion to Riyadh.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and serves as a top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country. During the first half of the current financial year, bilateral trade between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia was recorded at $2.482 billion, with Pakistan’s exports of $262.58 million and Saudi exports of $2.219 billion.

Saudi Arabia has often come to Pakistan’s aid in the past, regularly providing it oil on deferred payments and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up forex reserves.

As things stand, Pakistan desperately needs to shore up its foreign reserves and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a new bailout deal, for which it needs to signal that it can continue to meet requirements for foreign financing which has been a key demand in previous loan packages. 

Last year Pakistan set up the Special Investment Facilitation Council, a body consisting of Pakistani civilian and military leaders and specially tasked to promote investment in Pakistan. The council is so far focusing on investments in the energy, agriculture, mining, information technology and aviation sectors and specifically targeting Gulf nations.

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