The Roundtable on Pakistan’s Investment Climate
The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) hosted a Roundtable titled, “Pakistan’s Investment Climate: The Way Forward.” The Roundtable was a hybrid session, chaired by Khalid Rahman, Chairman, IPS. The objective of the session was to explore the current challenges faced by local and foreign investors and the desired economic strategies to overcome the prevailing crises.
Keynote Speaker: Muhammad Azfar Ahsan
Muhammad Azfar Ahsan, Founder & CEO of Nutshell Group and former Minister of State & Chairman Board of Investment (BoI), was the keynote speaker. He started his talk with three main issues: lack of vision, lack of political will, and the need for collaboration. He further added that under the current circumstances, doing business in Pakistan is no less than jihad.
Elaborating on investment issues, Azfar Ahsan stated that investors need handholding and assurances, as their profits go back into developing the infrastructure in Pakistan. He emphasized that the current investment climate is challenging for the lack of consistency and facilitation.
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Foreign Direct Investments (FDI)
Extrapolating on FDI, Azfar Ahsan said that the FDI portfolio is less than USD 3 billion, which is not sustainable for a country of over 230 million people. He suggested that Pakistan must focus on six to eight countries as best case studies to attract investment. He highlighted Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan’s investment strategies as an excellent model for Pakistan to follow.
China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
While contemplating the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, Azfar Ahsan highlighted CPEC as a great example of FDI. He noted that not much is being done to productively utilize the opportunity. He said that the Chinese government has already established Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in 22 countries and suggested that this should be the top agenda in meetings with China’s President Xi.
Investment from Saudi Arabia
Azfar Ahsan mentioned that the Saudi government has funding available for eight priority sectors, with their biggest desire to engage Pakistan as a Food Security partner. They want to establish an Agri Zone in Pakistan and an oil refinery in Balochistan. However, the delay has been from Pakistan’s end as they have failed to deliver ready projects.
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Responsibility for Lack of Investment
Azfar Ahsan believes that blaming any political government, bureaucracy, or army for the lack of investment is wrong. This is shared responsibility and shared failure. He suggested that the Prime Minister is responsible for resolving bureaucratic hurdles.
The attendees praised the roundtable format for enabling them an equal voice in the discussion. They contributed through insightful questions and statements and shared appreciation for a candid approach toward understanding the impediments and finding solutions, which of course begin with a clear vision and meritocracy above anything else. The attendees included economists, government officials, analysts, researchers, and media.