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Opportunities for mutual benefit loom as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan begins visit to Saudi Arabia
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has a long-standing warm relationship with Saudi Arabia, deeply rooted in their common faith, common history and mutual support in times of crisis. Over 2 million Pakistanis work in the Kingdom, contributing to its prosperity and sending billions of funds home. Trade, meanwhile, continues to flourish between the two nations.
In a bid to strengthen their mutual cooperation, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Saudi Arabia on Friday at the invitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to begin a three-day official visit, featuring energy, economy and government. welfare of overseas Pakistanis expected. at the top of the diplomatic agenda.
“We believe this is a very important visit by Prime Minister Imran Khan to Saudi Arabia in regards to our historic bilateral relations, trade and economic relations,” Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri, spokesperson told Arab News. word of the Pakistani foreign office.
“The two sides will discuss the economy, trade, investment and employment opportunities for Pakistani workforce in Saudi Arabia, in addition to signing a number of agreements on projects related to the energy and infrastructure. “
Indeed, the Kingdom is an extremely important trade destination for Pakistan and the two countries have sought ways to strengthen their partnership as well as the volume of imports and exports.
Currently, the trade volume between the two countries stands at $ 3.6 billion, with imports from Saudi Arabia worth $ 3.2 billion and exports to the Kingdom worth $ 316.3 million, according to the Pakistan Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
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“Our exports to Saudi Arabia have increased this year after our companies were allowed to export halal meat and livestock, and we are trying to boost them further,” said Shahid Ahmed Leghari, chairman of the Pakistan Business Council. -Saudi women, to Arab News.
Pakistani companies have also started exporting spices and clothing to the Kingdom, he said, but there is room for improvement. “We can increase our bilateral trade to $ 20 billion per year if we are allowed to export rice, fruits, vegetables, wheat flour and dairy products to the Kingdom,” Leghari said.
Khan’s visit to Saudi Arabia will help “open up new business opportunities” for Pakistani businessmen and exporters, he added.
Ahead of the visit, the Pakistani cabinet on Tuesday approved the creation of the Supreme Coordination Council between the country and Saudi Arabia to “remove obstacles” to the investment agreements signed during the Crown Prince’s visit to Pakistan in February 2019.
During the Crown Prince’s visit in 2019, officials from the two countries signed key memoranda of understanding worth $ 20 billion in energy, petrochemicals, minerals, agriculture and food processing.
Khan will be accompanied on his Saudi visit by a high-level delegation, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs and other members of the Cabinet.
He will also meet with Dr Yousef Al-Othaimeen, Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; Mohammad bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, Secretary General of the World Muslim League; and the imams of the two holy mosques of Mecca and Medina.
Khan will also meet members of the Pakistani diaspora in Jeddah during his stay in the port city. The Kingdom remains the largest source of overseas remittances to Pakistan, with Pakistani workers sending home $ 6.6 billion in the past fiscal year and $ 5.7 billion from July to March. this exercise, according to the State Bank of Pakistan.
These remittances are a major source of foreign capital for Pakistan as it struggles to stabilize its economy, crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.
“This visit is important because Pakistan faces real financial challenges where we have to maintain our foreign exchange reserves,” Qamar Cheema, a Pakistani foreign relations analyst, told Arab News.
“Pakistan is also facing challenges since the UAE visa (for Pakistanis) has not been reinstated and at the same time the Pakistani diaspora is very large. Pakistan therefore wants its strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia to remain the same. “
Just weeks after Khan took office in August 2018, Saudi Arabia helped Pakistan avoid the looming balance of payments crisis by providing a $ 3 billion interest-free loan and another deferred payment of $ 3 billion for importing oil.
In return, “Pakistan wants to share its experiences with Saudi Arabia, making Saudi Arabia green. And Pakistan also wants to share its (military) experience to protect Saudi Arabia’s security, ”Cheema said.
“We will move forward where we left off in 2019 when the Crown Prince came here.”
The Kingdom has often supported Pakistan during difficult times, providing financial support during wars and natural disasters.
“Pakistan cannot forget Saudi Arabia’s tremendous financial support in the form of oil and cash supplies during our difficult times like the 2005 earthquake and flash floods in 2010 and 2011,” said Javed Hafeez, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, at Arab News. .
The presence of the Pakistani army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa in the Kingdom ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit, indicates that the two countries are interested in “strengthening defense cooperation” and economic ties, he said. -he declares.
“Saudi Arabia is a trusted and trusted friend of Pakistan, and the Prime Minister’s visit will certainly help open up new prospects for economic cooperation,” Hafeez said.