Talking to a group of select journalists in a roundtable organised to unveil details of US Pakistan Business Opportunities Conference June 25-26 in Dubai, the ambassador said the US is conducting a financing feasibility study of Diamer-Bhasha Dam, seeking support from the private sector and pursuing multilateral financial institutions.
Asked if the US will use its clout with multilateral institutions which have blocked Pakistan”s efforts to seek funding by insisting that Pakistan must procure a no-objection certificate from India as a precondition, the Ambassador reiterated that the US supports the project and is closely working with the multilateral institutions on financing the project.
He said Pakistan is facing serious energy challenges and the US is also financing other hydropower and thermal projects which include modernising Mangla Dam, upgrading thermal power plants, building Gomal Zam Dam, building Satpara Dam, renovating Tarbela Dam, Guddu Thermal Power Project, Lakhra and Jamshoro Thermal Power Project, etc.
The Ambassador stated that the US has a stated position on Iran Pakistan gas pipeline but added that the US is supporting other energy projects including hydropower projects. He said the US has already added 1000 MW in the system and an additional 300 MW will be added by 2014. Replying to a question on nuclear civil technology, the Ambassador stated that it is a complex issue and the US is talking with the Pakistani government.
“It”s a complicated issue. Dialogue is going on between Pakistan and the United States on nuclear issue. I think this issue should be discussed through the diplomatic channels,” he added. In reply to another question, the Ambassador said that there are challenges in Pakistan but at the same time opportunities also exist. The US companies participating in Dubai Conference will have an opportunity to meet Pakistani entrepreneurs.
He said, “Pakistan Product Investment Initiative” is being launched in Dubai and the whole idea is to promote entrepreneurship stressing a shift from traditional assistance toward stronger business-to-business ties. Olson maintained that there is great potential for private sector in infrastructure and education.
“We are going to ask US companies to invest in Pakistan,” he said. Answering a question on financial support to civilian government under the Kerry Lugar bill, he said that the US government follows a process to finalise things, adding that preparation of civilian projects takes time. He said US extended $3 billion assistance to Pakistan in a few years.Answering another question he said that GoP has submitted bills for July- September 2012 under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) which are being verified.
He said there is potential unmet demand in many areas but financing is insufficient so there is a need for Public Private Partnership (PPP) for infrastructure projects. The Ambassador further maintained that the US is a market of about 3500 Pakistani goods under the GSP system but exporters and entrepreneurs are not fully aware of the entire range of products. “Pakistani firms engaged in value addition have good opportunities in the US market,” he added.
Answering another question, the Ambassador said there is progress on CASA 1000 and TAPI. Responding to a question on resumption of talks on Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between Pakistan and the US, the Ambassador said that he has no specific date on resumption of dialogue on this issue, adding that both countries have to reach an agreement to make the treaty useful. He said signing of BIT is a step towards opening of business and investment between the two countries.
Replying to a question on post Afghanistan withdrawal scenario, Olson said the US has two kinds of interests, ie, long term and short-term. Defining long-term interests, Ambassador Olson said that Pakistan is big country with a young population of over 180 million. Pakistan will continue to be influential in the region in future. In that context, US would have good relations with Pakistan based on trade and not aid.
“We want good trade relations across the region,” he maintained. Defining short-term interests, the Ambassador said that US is closely working with Afghanistan and Pakistan on post withdrawal scenario and opening of Taliban offices in Doha (Qatar) is a step in the right direction. He appreciated Pakistani government for extending all possible co-operation in this regard.
The Ambassador said about 140 companies are participating in the Dubai conference arranged by the US Embassy in Islamabad in close co-ordination with Commerce Ministry. On first day of the conference, ie, June 25, 2013 the following issues will come under discussion: (i) post-election political/ economic outlook in Pakistan; (ii) trade and investors sessions on agribusiness, education, textile; and (iii) Q&A with the Pakistani officials on commercial/investment framework.
The agenda of second day will be: (i) access to the US market via the Generalised System of Preferences; (ii) access to finance in Pakistan; (iii) trade and investors sessions on energy, (iv) IT; and (v) consumer goods. Minister for Finance Ishaq Dar, Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Muhammad Asif Minister of State for Science and Technology, Engineer Khurram Dastgir UAE based former Ambassador Javed Malik, and Secretary Commerce Munir Qureshi (who has been transferred and posted as Secretary Ministry of Overseas Pakistan) will represent Pakistan whereas US side will include senior state department officials including the US representative in Pakistan& Afghanistan, Daniel Fieldman, Ambassador Richard Olson, Michael Dodman and other senior officials from US Embassy in Pakistan, US Department of State, US department of trade will represent United States.
Olson stated with 190 million potential customers, Pakistan is a huge emerging market opportunity for US companies. Ambassador Olson noted that the United States is one of the largest investors in Pakistan, and that Pakistan exports more products to the United States than to any other country in the world. “The US government sees Pakistan”s prosperity as good for the region and good for the United States,” he added. He said the conference will play a significant role in promoting private-sector-led growth in Pakistan by strengthening bilateral economic ties, promoting trade and investment, and strengthening business education.