Q: For those who do not know Pakistan, what are the key areas for investment?
A: Our economy has really suffered from the aftermath of September 11. Pakistan’s decision to support international efforts to combat terrorism led to reprisal attacks by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, resulting in 70,000 deaths and economic losses of $150bn plus. [Prime minister] Imran Khan’s cabinet is focusing on economic growth.
For foreign investors, opportunities are open in all sectors of economy with incentives of 100% repatriation of profits and 100% equity, except in agriculture, airlines, media and banking.
The government has identified the best areas for foreign investment: food processing, textiles, automobiles, IT services and logistics. We’re also establishing two types of special economic zones. One comes under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the other under the policy of developing the industrial zones. Trade with China has increased exponentially in the past few years, jumping from $5bn to more than $20bn now. Chinese businesses are actually shifting production to Pakistan.
Pakistan has the world’s sixth largest population, which means huge energy demands like our neighbours China and India. The best access to these countries is through Pakistan. Our oil and gas exploration is already underway, while Pakistan’s blue economy sector also remains under-exploited.
Our mineral sector is another area with huge potential. Pakistan has the fifth largest deposits of copper, fifth largest deposits of gold. I think we have the third largest deposit of coal and natural salt. There are huge deposits of gems and precious stones. And there is the country’s rapidly growing tourist industry. This year, Lonely Planet said Pakistan’s tourism could be ‘the next big thing’. Just look at our mountains: among the 20 highest peaks in the world, 14 are in Pakistan.
Q: Why should foreign investors not be concerned about security and political stability in Pakistan?
A: For one, the World Trade Organization, the World Economic Forum, Lonely Planet and Forbes are forecasting positive economic growth, while Prince William and his wife visited the country this year. Another indicator is the arrival FDI, which has been exponentially rising. For example, China came with initially $46bn of investment, to be spread over 15 years. This has now increased to $62bn, relating mainly to the energy sector and infrastructure development. Then we received very good investment from Malaysia. Germany is a very big investors in Pakistan, especially in the renewable energy sector. Qatar has invested in Pakistan’s health sector.
All this is a testimony to the security situation. US and EU reports show a decrease of around 90% in security-related incidents in Pakistan, for the past two to three years now.
The major sector that’s really come up in Pakistan, in terms of contribution to gross domestic product, is the IT sector. These are the signs of how things have improved. It should give a sense of confidence to those who are holding back their investment. No country can claim that they’re security risk-free.
Q: What key business reforms still need to be made?
A: First, what is required is consistency of policies, regardless of who is in government. This cross-party agenda is being worked on. Second, creating awareness as to how Pakistan can benefit from its strategic regional connectivity.
New government policies to improve the business environment have elevated Pakistan’s position 28 places, according to the recent World Bank Ease of Doing Business report. That’s a very big boost.
We’re trying our best to resolve the issue in Kashmir. We’ve done our best to resort to dialogue. Let’s do away with this problem of the constant conflict situation, which is not just holding back the exploitation the economic potential. However, remember that Kashmir is one end of Pakistan, a very big country, and the centre of gravity of the global economy has shifted to Asia.