Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif visits Qatar seeking trade, investment

Visit comes ahead of an IMF meeting next week that is expected to approve a $1.2bn tranche of lending to Islamabad.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif
Pakistan's PM Shehbaz Sharif boards a plane as he leaves for a two-day official visit to Qatar, in capital Islamabad [Press Information Department/Handout via Reuters]

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has travelled to Qatar in the hope of generating trade and investment for his cash-strapped country, his office and aides said.

“I will highlight the exciting investment opportunities in Pakistan’s various sectors such as renewable energy, food security, industrial and infrastructure development, tourism and hospitality,” Sharif said in a statement on Tuesday before setting off.

The South Asian country of 220 million people is in economic turmoil with a balance of payment crisis.

The foreign reserves have fallen to as low as $7.8bn, hardly enough for more than a month of imports, a widening current account deficit, a historic depreciation of the rupee against the United States dollar and 24.9 percent inflation posted in July.

The visit is coming ahead of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting next week that is expected to approve a $1.2bn tranche of lending, which has been stalled since the beginning of the year.

In a statement shared with Al Jazeera, the Pakistani ministry of foreign affairs said it as Sharif’s first visit to Qatar since assuming office in April this year.

“During the visit, the Prime Minister will hold in-depth consultations with the Qatari leadership. The two sides will review the entire spectrum of bilateral relations, with a particular focus on advancing energy-related cooperation, deepening trade and investment ties, and exploring greater employment opportunities for Pakistanis in Qatar,” it said.

“Qatar is home to more than 200,000 Pakistanis, who are contributing to the progress, prosperity and economic development of the two brotherly countries.”

The statement said Sharif will also visit Stadium 974 in Doha, where he would be briefed on the preparations made by Qatar for the FIFA World Cup.

Reports earlier on Tuesday said Pakistan’s cabinet has approved a draft agreement that allows the government to provide troops for security at the sporting event.

Two sources close to Sharif told the Reuters news agency he was also expected to offer Qatar shares in state-owned enterprises, like the loss-making Pakistan International Airlines and its Roosevelt Hotel in New York.

He was also expected to offer the opportunity to manage Pakistan’s airports and hoped to secure energy deals, they said.

“The trip is significant enough to merit a personal trip by the prime minister himself,” Khurram Husain, analyst and editor of Profit magazine, told Al Jazeera.

“The details of what exactly will be discussed are scant. We know that for Pakistan, it is about dollars… We also know there is a pledge of about a billion [US] dollar in assistance, but what shape this assistance will take is not clear at this point.

“However, what is clear at this point is that Pakistan badly needs commitment of this sort in order to get the IMF programme past executive board for approval which is scheduled for August 29.”

Pakistan, a key importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar, also hoped to seek a deferred payment plan for the LNG bought under long-term deals.

Pakistan has two long-term LNG supply deals with Qatar to provide for up to nine cargoes a month.

“We will surely seek any facility of deferred payments on our LNG deals,” said an aide to Sharif, adding that Pakistan was also seeking support for its foreign reserves to the tune of $2bn.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies