Pakistan has seen economic fallout stemming from the Russia-Ukraine war and the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as devastating floods that submerged a third of the country this year.
As Pakistan seeks to diversify its economy, Singapore is the prime location for the country to engage with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), its Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said.
“Singapore is a very advanced economy. You engage with all the big players internationally,” Mr Bhutto Zardari told CNA on Friday (Dec 9) while on an official visit to Singapore to reaffirm bilateral ties.
“There are so many areas of our economy that complement each other. We can benefit from your location to reach out into ASEAN. Singapore can benefit from Pakistan’s location to reach upwards and outwards,” he added.
Both countries not only have the potential for trade growth in the long term, there are also “low-hanging fruits” that can be mutually beneficial in the short term, Mr Bhutto Zardari said.
He proposed that one such partnership could be the trading of produce, as Pakistan is a huge meat exporter, while Singapore is an import-heavy nation dependent on outside sources for food.
While in Singapore, Mr Bhutto Zardari met Singapore’s President Halimah Yacob at the Istana, and discussed trade, digital economy and regional issues with Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
Like many other nations, Pakistan has seen inflation and rising costs in the economic fallout stemming from the Russia-Ukraine war and the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Pakistan’s trade with Russia has increased exponentially in the years leading up to the war, and the country imports wheat, coal, and natural gas from Russia.
Sanctions on Russia, as well as energy and commodities supply chain disruptions, have stalled trade and caused prices to soar.
The recent floods in Pakistan, triggered by torrential monsoon rains that wiped out homes and crops, have added to the economic burden, affecting at least 33 million people and causing more than US$30 billion in damage.
Mr Bhutto Zardari said that the recent difficulties have forced Pakistan to look elsewhere for more trade options, especially for food imports.
“We learnt from the pandemic, we learnt from Russia and Ukraine, that supply chains are not always set in stone. So the more the merrier, basically,” he said.
“Given the difficult economic time we’ve all experienced … we’re all looking for ways to diversify our economies,” he added.
ENGAGEMENT WITH ASEAN
Mr Bhutto Zardari urged the world to take a fresh look at his country as a “promising emerging market” full of opportunities, as Pakistan pushes towards a path of economic and post-disaster recovery.
While the South Asian country will be looking to enhance its relationship with obvious economic powerhouses like the US and China, Pakistan will also be venturing into other regions, the foreign minister said.
Economic engagement with ASEAN to enhance trade and cooperation is a top priority for his government, as building sound business connections are “the best advocates for your bilateral relationships”, he said.
He added that Pakistan has plans to hold a trade expo involving ASEAN soon.
Investment bank Goldman Sachs said in a report last Thursday that by 2075, rapid population growth could propel Pakistan to become one of the largest economies in the world.
Pakistan has the world’s fifth largest population and borders four countries, of which two are the most populous nations in the world – China and India.
However, only China is a major trading partner for Pakistan. Unrest in Iran and Afghanistan, and hostile relations between Pakistan and India, have prevented more robust trade from taking place between Pakistan and those countries.
Mr Bhutto Zardari said that his country has huge unfulfilled economic potential, due to its strategic geographical location.
“At the moment, we don’t trade the way we should. But we won’t be stuck at these problems forever,” he said.
“(But) the day will come when the fifth largest country on the planet would be trading with China, India, Iran and Afghanistan, through central Asia, and that economic potential is just raring to be unlocked.”
“My pitch to the world is: We are in difficult ways now. (But) those who get in (to work with Pakistan) today will benefit a lot more in that inevitable future,” he added.
Source: Channel News Asia