Pakistan hopes for ‘greater success’ at LEAP conference in Riyadh amid push to grow local IT industry — minister

Caretaker Federal Minister for IT & Telecom, Dr. Umar Saif, speaks at ITCN Asia 23, the International IT & Telecom show at Expo Center Karachi, Pakistan, on August 31, 2023. (Photo courtesy: X/@umarsaif/File)
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Updated 03 March 2024
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Pakistan hopes for ‘greater success’ at LEAP conference in Riyadh amid push to grow local IT industry — minister

  • The LEAP 2024 conference, to be held in Riyadh on March 3-7, will bring together thousands of tech professionals, firms and experts
  • Pakistan, faced with economic slowdown, is making aggressive efforts to grow its IT industry to attract much-needed foreign investment

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Caretaker Information Technology (IT) Minister Umar Saif said on Sunday that his country was hoping for “greater success” at the annual LEAP tech conference in Saudi Arabia this week, amid the South Asian country’s push to grow local IT industry in the Middle East.
The LEAP 2024 conference is scheduled to be held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from March 3 till March 7. The global event serves as a meeting point for regional and international tech professionals, enterprises and experts, providing them a chance to network and secure lucrative contracts from regional and global tech giants.
Pakistan, faced with an economic slowdown, has been making aggressive efforts to grow its IT industry in the Middle East to attract much-needed foreign investment to support the dwindling $350 billion South Asian economy.
Earlier this week, Excellence Delivered (ExD), a Pakistani IT enterprise, secured the highly coveted SAP RISE implementation contract with the prestigious Middle East Specialized Cables (MESC) in Riyadh.
“Our push for growing Pakistan’s IT industry in the middle-east is producing great results,” Saif said on X, reacting to the development. “Onwards and upwards! Hoping for even greater success with the LEAP conference this week.”
Established in 1993, MESC is a leading manufacturer of industrial, instrumentation and process control cables, with manufacturing facilities in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The ExD said it clinched the prestigious project after “fierce competition” from regional and global players.
Earlier this week, Pakistani tech companies discovered “promising leads” at the recently concluded Web Summit in the Qatari capital of Doha that would lead to an increase in business collaboration between entrepreneurs in the two countries, the head of the Pakistani software houses association said.
Entrepreneurs, investors, and business leaders from around the world converged in central Doha to participate in the four-day-long Web Summit 2024. Over 100 Pakistani delegates attended what was one of the world’s biggest tech conferences to showcase the country’s tech potential and interact with their global counterparts, sharing best practices and cutting-edge ideas.
“Several Pakistanis participated in startup rounds, where many found promising leads which will now materialize after further discussions and providing project papers and other details,” Muhammad Zohaib Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA), told Arab News on Thursday.
Khan, who attended the conference in Doha, said some Pakistani delegates extended their stay in the Gulf country to further discuss and work on the leads they had found during the event.


Pakistan has pitched ‘epic menu’ of $30 billion investment projects to Riyadh — foreign minister

Updated 5 sec ago
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Pakistan has pitched ‘epic menu’ of $30 billion investment projects to Riyadh — foreign minister

  • Ishaq Dar says Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will visit Pakistan for three days from April 22-25
  • Says Saudi crown prince has accepted PM’s invitation to visit Pakistan, timing being discussed 

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar said on Thursday Pakistan had pitched an “epic menu” of investment projects worth $30 billion to Saudi Arabia during a visit this week by the Kingdom’s foreign chief, adding that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi would visit Islamabad from April 22-25.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud was in Islamabad earlier this week where he said Riyadh would be “moving ahead significantly” to invest in projects in the South Asian nation. His visit followed a meeting in Makkah between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in which the Kingdom had pledged to expedite $5 billion in investments.
Speaking to journalists at an informal meet-and-greet on Thursday afternoon, Dar said Pakistan had pitched projects worth $30 billion to the Saudi delegation, which would “take time” to materialize. 
“It’s a process, it doesn’t happen overnight,” the foreign minister said. “We have given them a big epic menu to select [from]. After that their expression of interest has been indicated. On that, we will get details on [April] 28, so it takes time. But all vibes are very positive.”
Dar said PM Sharif had invited the Saudi crown prince to visit Pakistan during their meeting in Makkah earlier this month:
“He has very kindly accepted the invitation. The timing of the visit will obviously be sorted out between diplomatic channels of the two countries.”
Responding to a question about a planned visit by Iran’s Raisi to Pakistan, Dar said it had been in the works for “weeks and months.”
“He is coming. The visit is on the cards on 22, 23, 24 [April] and we are preparing fully for this.”
Dar also said Afghan Interim Foreign Minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi had invited him to visit Afghan when the two leaders spoke on the telephone last month.
No country has recognized Taliban rule since they seized power in August 2021, after the Western-backed government collapsed as the last US-led international troops departed following two decades of war.
When asked if he would accept Muttaqi’s invitation to visit Kabul, Dar responded: 
“By not interacting we will achieve nothing … so my own fundamental thinking is this, but obviously it [visit] is subject to clearance by the prime minister and MOFA [ministry of foreign affairs] advice that at the appropriate time we will definitely visit.”
Dar also spoke about tensions in the Middle East as the Israeli military has pledged a response to Iran’s retaliatory strikes last week for a suspected Israeli airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1. 
Israel and its allies mostly shot down all missiles and drones and there were no deaths, but Israel says it must retaliate to preserve the credibility of its deterrents. Iran says it views the matter as closed but will retaliate again if Israel does.
“Our policy guidelines are about peace, we don’t want any confrontation, we want a peaceful resolution, we want a Gaza solution as soon as possible,” Dar said when asked about the possibility of escalation. 
“We want a ceasefire in Gaza, we want a Palestinian permanent state.”


Pakistan expects to avoid rupee devaluation in new IMF talks — finance minister

Updated 57 min 35 sec ago
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Pakistan expects to avoid rupee devaluation in new IMF talks — finance minister

  • No reason for rupee to depreciate more than the range of about 6 percent to 8 percent seen in a typical year, Aurangzeb tells Bloomberg 
  • Pakistan expects IMF mission to visit in May, would like to reach staff-level agreement on new loan by end of June or early July

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s new government does not anticipate any significant currency devaluation as part of its negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to unlock billions of dollars in lending and bolster the nation’s economic reform agenda, Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb said in an interview to Bloomberg published on Thursday. 
While massive devaluations have accompanied some of Pakistan’s previous IMF loans and are often a condition of the crisis lender’s programs around the world, nothing comparable should be necessary this time around, Aurangzeb said in an interview on the sidelines of the IMF and World Bank spring meetings in Washington.
“I don’t see the need for any step change,” Aurangzeb said, citing solid foreign-exchange reserves, a stable currency, rising remittances and steady exports. “The only thing which can be a wild card, although in our projections we should be OK, is the oil price.”
He added there would be no reason for the rupee to depreciate more than the range of about 6 percent to 8 percent seen in a typical year. 
Pakistan last devalued its currency in January 2023.
Aurangzeb, 59, said the new government in Islamabad was looking to bolster industries including agriculture and information technology with support that it hopes will help push the nation’s growth above 4 percent in the coming years.
In its talks with the IMF, Pakistan plans to seek a traditional IMF loan through the institution’s so-called extended fund facility. It also wants to get money via the IMF’s new Resilience and Sustainability Trust, which works to strengthen low-income and vulnerable countries against external shocks like floods that devastated Pakistan in 2022.
One of the new government’s tasks will be to steer the country out of a high-inflation and low-growth pattern. It also faces about $24 billion in external financing needs in the fiscal year starting July, about three times its reserves. 
Aurangzeb said Pakistan was in “relatively good shape” to make those payments.
Pakistan needs to repay “a couple of billion dollars” in the present fiscal year but reserves are expected to reach around $10 billion by the end of June from $8 billion now, said Aurangzeb. The dollar reserves currently cover about two months of imports.
Pakistan expects an IMF mission to visit in May and would like to reach a staff-level agreement on its next loan by the end of June or early July, Aurangzeb said, without specifying how much the nation was seeking. Bloomberg News earlier reported that the nation plans to ask for at least $6 billion.
Securing a new deal may also boost Pakistan’s dollar bonds and stock market, which have handed investors one of the best gains globally since the nation began the current IMF loan last July. The IMF executive board is expected to approve the final disbursement this month from the nation’s existing $3 billion loan that helped it avert a default on its debt last year.
Key objectives in the loan negotiations will include broadening the tax base, improving debt sustainability and restoring viability to the energy sector, the IMF said last month. These are steps that Pakistan has avoided for decades because of their unpopularity among a nation of more than 250 million people.
Pakistan in recent years increased tax revenue and energy prices to meet IMF demands but hasn’t been able to make progress on long-term structural issues such as privatizing state-owned companies.


Pakistani PM orders ‘action plan’ to finalize investments discussed with Saudi FM’s delegation

Updated 18 April 2024
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Pakistani PM orders ‘action plan’ to finalize investments discussed with Saudi FM’s delegation

  • Prince Faisal has said Riyadh would be “moving ahead significantly” to invest in projects in Pakistan
  • Mining, agriculture, energy, IT and infrastructure development projects discussed during FM’s visit 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday chaired a meeting on Saudi investments in Pakistan and directed top officials to devise an “action plan” to complete projects discussed during a visit by Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud to Islamabad this week.
Prince Faisal arrived in Pakistan on Monday on a two-day visit aimed at enhancing bilateral economic cooperation and pushing forward previously agreed investment deals. Addressing a press conference on Tuesday, he said Riyadh would be “moving ahead significantly” to invest in projects in the South Asian nation.
His trip followed a meeting between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Sharif in Makkah, in which the Saudi leader reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite investments worth $5 billion.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.
“I will personally monitor the completion of projects with Saudi investment,” Sharif was quoted as saying at a meeting of top officials from relevant ministries and the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), a body consisting of Pakistani civilian and military leaders set up last year to promote investment in Pakistan.
During the FM’s visit this week, investments in the sectors of mining and minerals, agriculture, energy, information technology and infrastructure development were discussed.
“Any type of negligence regarding international investment projects is not acceptable … Outdated procedures and red tape will not work at all,” Sharif added.
“In this regard, a comprehensive action plan should be presented to increase the capacity of ministries. The Investment Board, SIFC and relevant ministries should formulate a plan of action for the completion of the projects decided in the discussions with the Saudi delegation.”
The PM said a delegation of well-known businessmen from Saudi Arabia was expected to arrive in Pakistan soon, and more investment opportunities also would be finalized during an upcoming visit by Sharif to Saudi Arabia.
Cash-strapped Pakistan desperately needs to shore up its foreign reserves and signal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it can continue to meet requirements for foreign financing that has been a key demand in previous bailout packages. Pakistan’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, is currently in Washington to participate in spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and discuss a new bailout program. The last loan deal expires this month.
Saudi Arabia has often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid in the past, regularly providing it oil on deferred payments and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up forex reserves.
Last year, however, Saudi Arabia’s finance minister said the Kingdom was changing the way it provides assistance to allies, shifting from previously giving direct grants and deposits unconditionally and moving toward mutually beneficial investment deals backed by internal economic reforms.


PIA says flights ‘severely affected’ as UAE reels for third day after record-breaking storm

Updated 6 min 56 sec ago
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PIA says flights ‘severely affected’ as UAE reels for third day after record-breaking storm

  • Operations at the Dubai airport remain disrupted after Tuesday’s storm flooded the runway
  • The rains were the heaviest experienced by the UAE in 75 years that records have been kept

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flights to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been affected by the recent torrential rains in Sharjah and Dubai and would resume once the situation improves in the Gulf country, a PIA spokesperson said on Thursday.
The United Arab Emirates was still grappling on Thursday with the aftermath of a record-breaking storm this week, with emergency workers trying to clear water-clogged roads and people assessing damages to homes and businesses.
In Dubai, operations at the airport, a major travel hub, remain disrupted after Tuesday’s storm flooded the runway. The airport resumed receiving inbound flights on Thursday morning, but flights continue to be delayed and disrupted.
The PIA said its flight operations were “severely affected” in the wake of the rains, which were the heaviest experienced by the UAE in 75 years.
“Pakistani airlines, including the PIA, await restoration of facilities at Dubai airport,” the PIA spokesperson said in a statement.
“PIA will immediately start its operations as soon as the situation improves.”
Passengers of canceled flights are being accommodated on the next flights on priority, according to the statement. Apart from this, more flights are also being planned.
The national flag-carrier requested travelers to reach its call center at 786 786 111 for information about their flight readjustments.


Saudi Arabia agrees to take rice imports from Pakistan to 20 percent — Pakistani trade official

Updated 18 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia agrees to take rice imports from Pakistan to 20 percent — Pakistani trade official

  • Riyadh currently imports 7 percent of its rice requirements from Pakistan, Trade Development Authority of Pakistan chief says
  • The Kingdom wants to help Pakistan economically by increasing imports from South Asian country, Zubair Motiwala adds

KARACHI: Saudi Arabia has agreed to increase rice imports from Pakistan to 20 percent of the Kingdom’s total requirement, a Pakistani official said on Wednesday, as the South Asian nation gears up to achieve the $3 billion rice exports for the first time ever.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been closely working to increase their bilateral trade and investment, including a recent commitment to invest about $5 billion in Pakistan. 

The Kingdom wants to help Islamabad by importing more from Pakistan, according to Muhammad Zubair Motiwala, head of the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP), the government arm that facilitates and promotes Pakistan’s international trade.

“Saudi are very eager to come and invest in Pakistan. They also want to help Pakistan by importing more from Pakistan,” Motiwala told Arab News, on the sidelines of an event hosted by the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) in Karachi. 

“For instance, the rice, which we are exporting to Saudi Arabia, is 7 percent of the requirement and they have agreed that they will take it to 20 percent. It’s almost three times [of] what we’re exporting today.” 

Pakistan has exported rice worth $2.9 billion from July 2023 till March 2024, according to REAP officials.

“We will cross the $3 billion export mark easily during the remaining four months of the current fiscal year,” Chela Ram Kewlani, the REAP chairman, said at the event.

The development came days after the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, visited Pakistan to enhance bilateral economic cooperation and push forward previously agreed investment deals.

His trip came a little over a week after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Makkah and reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite investments worth $5 billion.

The TDAP chief said a high-powered Saudi delegation was due in Pakistan, which would further boost the trade and investment climate.

“They’re interested in so many privatization projects, like the PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) and the [Pakistan] Steel Mills, and so many others,” he said.

“And they also want to get into the stock exchange and they want to invest directly in the private sector and private-sector ventures.”

Motiwala was confident that Pakistan’s overall exports to Saudi Arabia would increase after diplomatic engagements between both countries at the time of the Saudi delegation’s visit. He, however, did not specify a tentative date for the visit.

Pakistan has exported goods worth $20.35 billion, including a major chunk of $11.14 billion that came from the textile exports, during the current fiscal year (July 2023-Feb 2024), according to official data.

However, the TDAP chief said the country was not fully harnessing its potential, which he believed to be more than $100 billion. 

“I am never satisfied, to be very frank and blunt… looking at the potential of Pakistan, we should not be at this place where we are... $30 billion, $32 billion [exports] is not the size of Pakistan,” he said.

“I think at least Pakistan should export more than 100 billion dollars.”

Motiwala said the TDAP was working hard to see how the country could increase its exports.

“We are looking for the government’s help also, government’s cooperation also, where we can reduce the cost of doing business and cost of manufacturing in Pakistan,” he said. “If we are able to do that, I think sky is the limit.”

The TDAP official said Pakistan was also going to organize a single country exhibition in Riyadh within the next two months to display a wide range of ‘Made-in Pakistan’ products.