Russia, CARs, Belarus and Iran: PM forms three ‘thematic working groups’

Source: Business Recorder

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, has constituted three Thematic Working Groups to finalise strategy for close engagement with Russia, Central Asian Republics (CARs), Belarus and Iran in various sectors pertaining to economic cooperation, connectivity, energy cooperation, trade and investment etc, official sources told Business Recorder.

The Thematic Working Groups comprise of secretaries of concerned Ministries/ Divisions, MO Directorate, ISI, Governor State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Chairman Wapda, Inter State Gas System (ISGS) and Information & Broadcasting. The Groups have discussed different options to close cooperation with CARs, Russia, Iran and Belarus which are as follows:

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Russia: (i) A team of experts will be sent to Moscow to address and streamline banking sector cooperation between two countries. Synchronized payment systems can facilitate trade ties. The governors of both Central Banks should get in touch with each other. The governor State Bank to fix a zoom meeting with his Russian counterpart to streamline banking sector cooperation. Report with concrete suggestions should be generated immediately; (ii) oil and gas import from Russia may be discussed on priority as Pakistan’s energy import bill of $ 24 billion is staggering. Russia has the necessary volumes for provision of LNG. Possibilities of gas swap through existing pipelines may be explored as well; (iii) matters related to Pakistan Stream Gas pipeline to be addressed; (iv) enhanced efforts to conclude wheat purchase agreement with Russia. Given its strong agriculture sector, prospects for agriculture technology cooperation may be explored to improve per acre yield in Pakistan; (v) trade and economics is the priority area for bilateral relations. There has been one percent decrease in bilateral trade due to Covid pandemic. Both sides need to work seriously in order to address this issue; (vi) Islamabad to host IGC meeting in 2022. Respective delegations from both sides need to be appointed well advance in time for fruitful discussions. From Russians side Ministry of Energy in the co-chair; (vii) both countries need to explore available options for rail and road connectivity; (viii) Possible avenues for cooperation in mining sector may be explored;(ix) barter trade mechanisms between Russia and Pakistan may be explored; and (x) Russian investment in iron ore deposits in Pakistan may be encouraged.

Iran: Barter trade agreement signed between Pakistan and Iran should be fully operationalized. A delegation will be sent to Iran in first week of October to discuss barter trade, energy cooperation and find workable solutions for enhancement of bilateral trade. An inter-ministerial delegation led by Commerce and comprising representatives from Petroleum Division, FBR, ISGS and Finance will visit Iran to discuss bilateral trade, barter exchange and energy cooperation. The Commerce Ministry will be the focal point. The MoFA to facilitate meetings in Tehran. Dr Safari, Deputy Foreign Minister on Economic Relations will follow up the project for provision of 110 MW electricity to Gwadar, Balochistan. Work from Pakistan side is progressing on a fast pace and Prime Minister himself is monitoring its progress. Javad Owji, Petroleum Minister will oversee the progress on IP gas pipeline project from Iran, whereas Dr Mussadak Malik MoS Petroleum will be the focal point from Pakistan.

Azerbaijan: Pakistan will fully support Azerbaijan’s position on Armenia both publicly and privately and establish close bilateral collaboration in energy sector especially LNG purchase. Minister of State for Petroleum Dr Mussadak Malik nominated as the chief negotiator/ focal point from Pakistan. Pakistan will establish cargo transportation between Pakistan and Azerbaijan and initiate immediate discussions on possibilities of importing urea and petroleum from Azerbaijan on G2G basis. Both sides will discuss possibilities of railway cooperation by exploring connection with ongoing rail and road connectivity projects in the region. Ministry of Food Security and Commerce will be focal points from Pakistan. The sources said, Minister of State for Petroleum to start negotiations with SOCAR president immediately. Petroleum Ministry to support and assist during technical negotiations both for LNG purchase and petroleum imports.

The Ministry of Food Security and Commerce to immediately fix a zoom meeting with their Azeri counterparts to discuss import of urea on G2G basis. The MoFA to facilitate interaction. The Aviation Division to propose viable options for establishing regular cargo transportation between two countries. Presently PIA is operating four weekly flights to Baku from Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.

Railway Ministry to immediately put up a report giving workable options to connect with Azerbaijan through ongoing railway connectivity projects in Iran. The Ministry of Communication to explore opportunities to link road connection with Azerbaijan through Iran. The Commerce Ministry to propose a draft Transit Trade Agreement with Azerbaijan.

Kyrgyz Republic: (i) completion of CASA 1000 infrastructure in Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan on priority by Energy Ministry (Power Division) and EAD to jointly address with Kyrgyz side all issues being faced by CASA 1000 project in Afghanistan in consultation with World Bank and other IFIs; (ii) direct PIA flights to be started by Aviation Division. Economic viability has substantially enhanced due to presence of more than 11,000 Pakistani students in Kyrgyzstan; (iii) Communication Ministry to outline viable options for focal connectivity through Afghanistan; and (iv) Commerce Ministry to share draft Transit Trade Agreement with Kyrgyz side through MoFA.

Kazakhstan: (i) Petroleum Ministry to immediately get in touch with its Kazakh counterpart to discuss possibilities of gas and petroleum import and gas swap options with Kazakhstan. A joint committee to be established for structured negotiations. Minister of State for Petroleum to lead the Committee; (ii) Commerce Ministry to immediately hold zoom meeting with its Kazakh counterpart to finalize Transit Trade Agreement, identify and put forth solutions to hurdles impacting bilateral trade and discuss possible avenues for trade expansion.

The government has observed that despite the presence of 170 Pakistani companies in Kazakhstan, the bilateral trade volume of low; (iii) EAD to identify, a date for holding next meeting of IGC at an early date; (iv) Ministry of Foreign Affairs to hold next session of PBC meeting at the earliest; (v) Aviation Division and PIA to chalk out direct air connectivity options with the Central Asian region in general and Kazakhstan in particular; (vi) Ministry of Interior to hold zoom meeting with its Kazakh counterpart to identify obstacles in liberalizing visa regimes and providing concrete solutions. Legal frameworks should be put in place by both sides. The MoFA to facilitate; and (vii) the MoFA to make preparations for PM’s visit to Kazakhstan for CICA Summit.

Uzbekistan: (i) Economic Affairs Division to prioritize next meeting of Pakistan Uzbekistan IGC in its annual calendar, move a case to re-designate Finance Minister as Co-Chair from Pakistan side, hold inter-ministerial meetings to expedite action on pending issues and invite Uzbek Trade Minister for a bilateral visit to discuss IGC agenda; (ii) Railway Ministry to hold regular zoom meetings with its Uzbek and Afghan counterparts to ensure timely completion of all important milestones in Trans-Afghan Railway project. For meetings on financial aspects of the project, representatives of Finance and EAD will be part of discussions. China’s willingness to participate in the project will be ascertained through the MoFA. For security aspects of the project including route alignment and aerial survey, the Ministry of Interior (MoI) MO Directorate and ISI will be essential part of negotiations/decisions; (iii) the Interior Ministry to initiate online discussions with its Uzbek counterpart to ensure a liberal visa regime for genuine travelers from both sides.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022