Pakistani ambassador urges much more trade
Pakistan's ambassador to China encouraged the Chinese business community to further explore trade opportunities in areas such as agriculture, energy and food products.
Since the signing of a free-trade agreement in 2007, trade volume between China and Pakistan has steadily increased, but "the sky is the limit as far as economic cooperation is concerned", Masood Khalid told China Daily in an exclusive interview.
Masood Khalid, Pakistan's ambassador to China
Khalid, 58, took office in January, succeeding Masood Khan, who transferred to New York as the Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations.
China-Pakistan trade, which soared by 17.6 percent to $12.4 billion last year, is projected to reach $15 billion within three years.
Khalid emphasized the need to improve connectivity between China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and northern Pakistan, which share a border.
"The current trade volume between the bordering regions is not much, only about $415 million," said Khalid. "Chinese business groups should be more active in exploring the northern areas of Pakistan."
He believes that infrastructure, agriculture, textiles and halal food — foods that Muslims are allowed to eat under Islamic dietary guidelines — would be attractive sectors for Chinese investment and would also support economic development in northern Pakistan.
"Besides abundant raw materials, Pakistan offers lower labor costs and better access to Central Asia, Middle East and South Asia." Khalid said.
The Pakistani government has taken extra measures to facilitate Chinese investors by assisting in operations and security, according to the ambassador.
"Pakistan's business environment is very liberal, with all sectors open to investment and no limitations on foreign equity," said Khalid. "Chinese entrepreneurs can invest in special economic zones and our embassy will provide assistance."
About 120 Chinese companies are currently in Pakistan working on different projects. Orient Group and China Mobile have each invested more than $700 million in energy and communication in Pakistan.
In February, management of Pakistan's strategic Gwadar port was transferred from Singapore's PSA International to China Overseas Port Holdings Ltd.
"Transferring administrative control to the Chinese company will not only help regional development, but also reduce transit times for China's energy imports," said Khalid, describing the project as "an economic and commercial venture".
The rock-solid cooperation between China and Pakistan reflects the two countries' all-weather and multifaceted strategic partnership, the ambassador said.
In 2011, Pakistan and China agreed to renew the Five-year Development Program for Economic Cooperation, which earmarked about $14 billion for 36 projects in education, healthcare, energy, agriculture, water, ICT and environment.
In addition to strengthening economic ties, Khalid said he also intends to boost people-to-people exchanges between Beijing and Islamabad.
"I want to promote links between universities and encourage communication between researchers, scholars, students and media," Khalid said.
More than 8,000 Pakistani students are currently studying in China.
"As ambassador, I will encourage more exchanges, including visits of youth delegations, in the coming years," said Khalid.