‘US investment terms beneficial’

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KARACHI:

A high official of the United States has emphasised that the US and Pakistan have a “very strong” relationship and they have entered a new chapter of cooperation and development.

In an interview with The Express Tribune, US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary responsible for Pakistan, South and Central Asia, Elizabeth Horst, during her visit to Pakistan last week, said “the US-Pakistan relationship right now is very strong because it is just about…the US and Pakistan together, not through a regional lens, not through any other lens.”

Responding to a question about the challenges faced by US investors in developing partnerships with Pakistan in the backdrop of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), she said the US had been in Pakistan just as long as China. “We have a long economic relationship with Pakistan.”

She pointed out that Washington did not ask Pakistan to choose between the US and China, adding that there was room for both.

“We think that the terms of US investment are really beneficial for Pakistanis. And we are proud of when a US company comes in, the kind of transparency and environmental concerns that the US companies bring really should give us an advantage. So, we see US investment as offering Pakistan a choice. And it is a good choice that will ultimately benefit Pakistani businesses and consumers.”

Horst noted that Pakistan was very active at the COP28 climate conference, adding that Pakistan got a lot of energy from coal-fired power plants.

“It’s super expensive and also not great for air quality. So, finding a way to find replacements for coal-fired power plants is another area where I think the US and Pakistan can hopefully work together.”

She stressed that the business climate in Pakistan had attracted high-level US investment. Though both the US and Pakistan had been impacted by a number of global headwinds whether it was Covid, inflation or floods in Pakistan, “we know that there are still opportunities.”

However, Pakistan is required to do a couple of things, including working on its business climate, to make sure that the companies feel like they have a good business environment. “That is the number one thing that will attract business.”

She called on Pakistan to provide a level playing field for all businesses including the US and other ones, reduce red tape and make sure that the bureaucracy and regulatory environment helped all companies.

At the same time, “it needs to undertake tax and energy reforms and that the IMF has also been emphasising upon through different loan programmes”.

“I am confident that what Pakistan is trying to do to attract the private sector can be successful…Pakistan has exciting potential.”

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She said the US and Pakistan were starting a new chapter where the two could explore a lot of different topics of mutual interest where interests of the two overlapped. “We are…working with each other as partners.”

Elaborating, Horst said that climate, agriculture and water were the top three areas of cooperation under the new chapter.

Pakistan has been a top victim of climate change despite less than 1% contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. It faced devastating floods in the summer of 2022 that affected almost one-third of the 240 million population.

Pakistan has estimated over $30 billion in economic losses in the floods and requires over $16 billion for reconstruction.

The US deputy assistant secretary said that another area of tremendous cooperation between the two sides was education. “We have seen a record number of Pakistanis who want to come and study in the United States. It is up 15%, which is a really big jump, particularly since the pandemic, and we’re excited about that.”

The US has announced more than $16 million in development and humanitarian assistance to help cope with food insecurity and malnutrition.

“We are also rebuilding schools, health facilities, and water systems. And so we have a shared interest in a shared goal…We are working together on cleaner energy and infrastructure (in Pakistan).”

It can demonstrate how two governments come together to work on an acute crisis that is going to directly impact the next generation.

More than 1.5 children are at risk of dying from acute malnutrition in Pakistan and 8 million, half of whom children, are living without access to drinking water. Most of these are still in flood-affected areas.

“This is an acute emergency and Pakistan’s future is at risk because this is the future labour force.”

South Asia is one of the least integrated economic blocs and that is a drawback for all countries in the region. “So, I think this is something where the Pakistani government and others need to figure out what could be done to take confidence-building measures….in trade and some economic innovation,” she added.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th, 2023.

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