PM TRACKER
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TRADE, INVESTMENT TIES WITH EAST ASIAN NEIGHBOURS

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From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI,
 Islamabad

May 16 - 22, 2005
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Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was on a week-long tour of South East Asian countries to further strengthen bilateral ties, attract investment, muster support for ASEAN membership and for consolidation of strategic Vision East Asia which envisages forging multidimensional coordination and cooperation amongst the East Asian countries.

The countries included in the Prime Minister's whirlwind tour were including Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Thailand and Singapore.

The Prime Minister after accomplishing a meaningful and result-oriented visit to Malaysia and Brunei, left for Thailand.

Before leaving Pakistan to four-nation tour, the PM presided over an important pre-budget meeting and finalized the outlines of the coming budget (2004-05), inaugurated the International Ulema Conference on Population and Development, he addressed the 5th Ministerial Conference for South Asian women in Islamabad, and addressed two public meetings at Depalpur and Okara and had a meeting with ruling party President Ch. Shujat Hussain and discussed the political situation in the country. He also called on the President before leaving for Malaysia and exchanged views about his visit to four Asian countries. Pakistan and Malaysia have agreed on a number of measures to boost trade and economic relations.

Following their comprehensive talks covering all facets of bilateral relations, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and his Malaysian counterpart, Abdullah Ahmad Badawai said in Kula Lumpur that the two countries would hopefully sign the Free Trade Agreement by the close of the year. Malaysia has also agreed to support Pakistan's bid to seek full dialogue partnership with ASEAN.

Recent developments clearly show that Pakistan and Malaysia are on course to realize the full potential of bilateral cooperation especially in trade and economy. Exchange of high level visits have played crucial role in bringing the two brother countries still closer in different spheres of life. Visit of President Pervez Musharraf to that country followed by visit to Pakistan by former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohammad and Prime Minister Badawi paved the way for closer economic interaction. And now the visit of Shaukat Aziz, who is known for his enthusiastic economic diplomacy, would surely take the bilateral relationship to new heights. The surging trade imbalance in favor of Malaysia, however, was a matter of concern for Pakistan. Last year, Pakistan faced a deficit of $519 million in its trade with Malaysia, mainly because of lack of diversity in commercial relations. This was acknowledged by the Malaysian Prime Minister as well but there is no visible progress to address the situation. Hopefully, conclusion of Early Harvest Program and the subsequent FTA would take into account this issue and rationalize the trade relationship to the mutual advantage. Similarly, Malaysia earned a lot of goodwill by announcing lifting of the ban on import of Pakistani manpower.

Immediately after the talks of Shaukat Aziz with Malaysian Prime Minister agreeing on enhancing economic cooperation, Pakistan and Malaysia private sectors joined hands with signing two agreements worth $220 million in hydropower and housing sectors. Under these agreements, Malaysia companies would invest in Pakistan.

Ran hill Power Berhard, a Malaysia company, contracted for $120 million with Laraib Energy Limited of Pakistan to construct a 79 MW New Bong Escape Hydropower project, 120 km from Islamabad, downstream of the Mangla Dam. The project will be developed on "Build Operate, Own and Transfer (BOOT) basis, to transfer to Pakistan government at the end of 25 year power purchase agreement.

 

 

Berjaya and Berhand from Kuala Lumpur and Canyon Enterprises from Islamabad signed Expression of Interest worth $100 million in a housing project. They would construct houses worth $500 million (Rs30 billion and Malaysia 2 billion ringgit) pm 128 acres land (1000 Kanals), about 18 minutes drive from the Convention Centre in Islamabad along the Murree Expressway. Almost 5000 apartments and 700 houses would be constructed. This project, besides bringing in FDI, would help provide impetus for development of 28 other construction related industries in Pakistan.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei held substantial talks on Saturday, paving the way for a significant boost to bilateral ties in economic, trade and investment fields. The Sultan of Brunei assured his country's full support for Pakistan to become a full dialogue Partner of the Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN).

During the talks Prime Minister Aziz briefed the host leader on the Pakistan, India peace dialogue, pointing out that a settlement of the Kashmir dispute was vital to bring peace and stability to South Asia. Pakistan desires a resolution of the issue according to the aspirations of the people of Kashmir, the Prime Minister said.

The Prime Minister, referring to President Pervez Musharraf's recent visit to India, said Pakistan stands for peaceful resolution of all issues through the dialogue process.

Prime Minister Aziz had an exclusive meeting with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. The talks covered a host of issues including re-invigorating the organization of the Islamic Conference, enhancing closer ties with ASEAN, cooperation in defense and diplomatic coordination, setting up of a joint investment company also figured during the talks. Presiding over the high level pre-budget meeting, the Prime Minister guided the budget makers that the budget for the year 2005-06 should be pro-poor and investment friendly. It should aim at the welfare of the poor, creation of more jobs for the unemployed, cutting down poverty level and containing inflation. Prime Minister's Advisor on Finance Dr. Salman Shah, Governor State Bank of Pakistan, Dr. Isharat Hussain, Minister of State for Finance Omar Ayub Khan, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, Chairman CBR and other senior officials of the ministry also attended the meeting.

Addressing the inaugural session of a two-day international Ulema Conference in Islamabad on Wednesday, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz rightly called upon the clergy to help project the true image of Islam before the world, to enable the Muslim Ummah to successfully tackle future challenges.

Organized by the Ministry of Population Welfare, the conference on Population and Development was a laudable effort to seek the guidance of Ulema (religious scholars) on the concept of population planning vis-a-vis Islam. With Ulema from 29 Muslim countries in attendance, the Imams of Ka'aba Sharif and Masjid-e-Nabvi prominent among them, the conference was expected to come up with some useful recommendations with regard to contemporary pressing issues related to population planning, health and development. The Prime Minister in his address also urged the learned participants to fight the misconceptions that exist regarding light of guidance provided by the Holy Qur'aan and Sunnah. Acknowledging the potential role of religious scholars in creating mass awareness on this important issue, he called upon the participants to rise to the occasion and provide new impetus and input into the debate on this important subject.

Rising populating levels are a major problem in the Muslim world, blocking the path to progress and prosperity and retarding efforts at bringing about an economic improvement at the macro and micro levels. The countries of the Islamic world can crown their development objectives with success by cooperating to reduce their population growth ratios. Mass awareness campaigns can shatter the myths that exist among the masses with regard to Islamic view on family planning. People need to be aware that rising populations lower living standards as resources become scarce. This is where Islam comes in as a religion that encourages the betterment of mankind, a message the contemporary Islamic scholars need to bring home to the people. It is heartening that in two days deliberation, the Ulemas came out with a decision that family planning as being practiced presently is not against the Islamic tenets.

Speaking at the Fifth Ministerial Conference for South Asian Women on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said Pakistan wished for a peaceful, stable and socio-economically vibrant region and would continue its endeavors for early settlement of bilateral disputes with India through peaceful means. He said Pakistan is a peace-loving nation and has neither any aggressive design against neighboring states nor will it tolerate any foreign aggression.

He said Pakistan would accept only a solution to the Kashmir conflict that comes in line with the aspirations of Kashmiri people. He said Islamabad and New Delhi had initiated a process to sort out their bilateral disputes through dialogue. "Things are moving in the right direction. And I believe the day is not far away when the Kashmir will not be a dispute anymore." He said he and the President visited India and held constructive dialogue with Indian leaders on Kashmir conflict.

Shauakt Aziz said Pakistan government has taken a number of steps for the empowerment of women and provided equal opportunities to them in remunerated employment, education, health and in financial as well as corporate sector. Participants from SAARC countries attended the three-day conference, which was held to celebrate tenth anniversary of Beijing Conference. Rukhsana Shaukat Aziz, wife of Prime Minister, especially attended the ceremony to highlight commitment of the government for empowerment of women.

Talking to newsmen after his meeting with his party chief Ch. Shujat Hussain, the Prime Minister ruled out possibility of general elections before 2007. In the meeting they discussed the political situation, party matters and legislative agenda for the forthcoming session of National Assembly.

Shaukat Aziz said the government is trying to promote the welfare of workers besides improving the working environment all over the country. The government, he said, believes that a happy and contented work force is the real asset, which can accelerate the pace of our transition towards economic prosperity. He also referred to various schemes and projects imitated by the government in this connection.

Addressing public meetings at Depalpur and Okara, the premier said the landmark Khushal Pakistan program will be launched soon to ensure radical changes in the rural areas of the country. He addressed the rally after kicking off wheat harvesting at Kasur-Lahore road near Mahaharabad. The premier ecalled that the relief package already announced by the president had started producing positive and healthy results in the agriculture sector. He said the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) government would deal with those elements with iron hands, who are nurturing anti-Pakistan thoughts and vowed to protect country's sovereignty at all cost.

"PML is the only party ushering the country into economic social progress under the wise and dynamic leadership of President General Musharraf and party President Ch. Shujat Hussain", the Prime Minister added.

Also present on the occasion were Federal Defense Minister Rao Sikander Iqbal, Minister of State for Youth and Culture Muhammad Ali Durrani, Federal Minister for Agriculture Sikander Hayat Bosan, Governor Punjab Lt. Gen. (Retd) Khalid Maqbool, and Chief Minister Punjab Ch. Pervaiz Elahi, MNAs, MPAs and Nazims.