Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is visiting Saudi Arabia at the personal invitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa arrived in Riyadh ahead of this high-profile visit to lay the groundwork for what is being described by the media as a major boost in Saudi-Pakistan ties, especially in terms of economic, trade and environmental cooperation.
This augurs well for the two brotherly countries, as their historic friendship faced an unfortunate rupture last year.
Luckily the leadership on both sides was resilient enough to see through the challenge and bring Saudi-Pakistan ties back on track.
To be sure, this resilience is rooted in the people-to-people relationship, which eventually helps them overcome temporary glitches and sustain cooperation on issues of mutual concern and interest. This time is no different — and here is why.
Soon after his election as prime minister in August 2018, Khan was able to develop a personal relationship with the crown prince.
He traveled to Saudi Arabia twice in the next two months, the second time at the personal invitation of the crown prince to attend the Future Investment Initiative conference as part of Saudi Vision 2030.
Khan had inherited a serious balance of payments crisis. So Saudi Arabia took the lead in offering a financial relief package of $6.2 billion, including $3 billion in loans and a $3.2 billion deferred oil payment facility.
Taking a cue from Riyadh, the UAE followed suit by offering $6 billion in additional support to Pakistan.
When the Saudi crown prince visited Pakistan in February 2019, he was personally driven by Khan to the prime minister’s house in Islamabad, up on the hill in Islamabad.
In another example that symbolized the personal chemistry between the two charismatic leaders, the crown prince cheerfully told the Pakistani premier: “I am your ambassador in Saudi Arabia.” (Later in the year, the crown prince would offer his personal plane to Khan to fly to New York for the UN summit. And even while Saudi-Pakistan ties briefly experienced a bad spell in 2020, Khan declared: “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will always remain close friends.”)
That historic visit to Pakistan by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2019 witnessed a major transition in Saudi-Pakistan strategic relations in the economic sphere, with the announcement of $20 billion of Saudi investments in Pakistan, including a $10 billion Aramco oil refinery and petrochemical complex in the strategic port city of Gwadar.
The rest of the investments were in the mining and renewable energy sectors.
This was in parallel with the efforts to sign the Free Trade Agreement to increase the volume of bilateral trade, which was worth $2 billion.
In the past, the two nations cooperated closely in security and geopolitical matters, and Saudi economic help was confined to oil concessions. Now, for the first time, the Kingdom was interested in the long-term economic development of Pakistan.
“This promising moment in Saudi-Pakistan ties is occurring amid a favorable turnaround in regional geopolitics, marked by breakthroughs on different fronts.“
–Dr. Ali Awadh Asseri
In particular, the choice of Gwadar for such an investment stake indicated the Saudi inclination to join the wider regional integration network: The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
In the natural order of things, the next logical step would have been to jointly work out the development plans for the proposed Saudi economic projects in Pakistan.
Unfortunately, international forces inimical to Saudi Arabia’s exceptional position in the Muslim world, and the historic Saudi-Pakistan alliance, could not digest the fact that the two brotherly nations were taking their relationship to a different level, where their interests could be geo-economically intertwined in future.
What happened next is a sad part of our current history, which is not worth recalling.
What is worth stating, however, is that Saudi Arabia is, and will remain, the heart of Islam for the Muslims of the world, and no other country can claim such a right: That the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is the sole representative body of 57 Muslim countries and no attempt to create an alternative Muslim bloc will ever succeed; and, of course, the fact that Saudi-Pakistan ties are well-rooted in the love and affection that their people have for each other, and hence no conspiracy can hamper their organic evolution as historic partners.
That is why the false narrative regarding the OIC’s role in Kashmir did not take hold for long. That is why the dismal portrayal of Saudi economic support for Pakistan finally failed the test of times.
Fortunately, both nations have formal and informal channels of communication to overcome any instance of grave misunderstanding or deliberate misinformation impacting their relationship.
Their bond is unbreakable as it is founded on the will of the two peoples.
Hence, the two brotherly nations have always stood shoulder to shoulder with each other in difficult times. From defending the sanctity of the two holy mosques to defeating the scourge of terrorism, Pakistan has always been a key Saudi partner.
Likewise, Saudi Arabia has never disappointed Pakistan when it is faced with hard times, be it the wave of terrorism post-9/11 or the devastating earthquake of 2005.
The two countries also closely cooperate to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan. The current or emerging Saudi engagement in Pakistan reflects the same spirit of camaraderie with Islamic roots.
In retrospect, what the visit of Prime Minister Khan to Jeddah shows is that the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is back to the level it was at when the crown prince visited Islamabad more than two years ago.
The decision by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to roll over $2 billion loans to next year implies the resumption of their respective financial relief packages, which Pakistan desperately needs to ward off the devastating effects of the third wave of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The visit is expected to kick-start work on the $20 billion Saudi development projects in Pakistan, especially the Aramco oil refinery and petrochemical complex in Gwadar.
To boost bilateral trade, a comprehensive customs cooperation accord is also reportedly on the agenda.
Moreover, General Bajwa’s almost week-long interaction with his Saudi counterparts, and the recent appointment of retired Lt. Gen. Bilal Akbar as Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, will ensure enhanced coordination in defense and the strategic relationship between the two countries.
In fact, this time the relationship is expected to deliver deeper cooperation beyond defense and the economy, on issues of climate change in particular.
Khan shares the vision of the crown prince as set out in the recently announced Saudi Green and Green Middle East initiatives, which align with his government’s Clean and Green Pakistan initiative.
And, luckily, this promising moment in Saudi-Pakistan ties is occurring amid a favorable turnaround in regional geopolitics, marked by the Saudi olive branch to Iran, the end of the Qatar crisis, and the India-Pakistan cease-fire in Kashmir.
These developments surely open up the diplomatic space for Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to concentrate their joint efforts for economic development and regional stability.
• Dr Ali Awadh Asseri served as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Pakistan from 2001 to 2009 and received Pakistan’s highest civilian award, Hilal-e-Pakistan, for his services in promoting the Saudi-Pakistan relationship. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Beirut Arab University and authored the book ‘Combating Terrorism: Saudi Arabia’s Role in the War on Terror’ (Oxford, 2009).
New PM and reforms Agenda
Pakistan needs all-out fundamental structural reforms in all areas of governance. However, the most important and immediate is political stability — the main challenge faced by the 23rd Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif.
Before taking the oath, after elected with 174 votes of members of the National Assembly, he made a number of pledges, reported amongst others by Associated Press of Pakistan. These measures were more in the nature of fire-fighting than fundamental structural reforms. In this article, an attempt is made to highlight some key areas requiring immediate attention.
The best way to bring about transparency in public finance and uproot financial crimes is establishment of a central anti-crime agency as highlighted in Uprooting corruption: Lessons from China, Global Village Space, May 12, 2021. Political parties must get rid of tax evaders and those living beyond means in their ranks and files.
Parties should also get rid of cultism—one man controlling the entire party. Once elected as the Prime Minister he/she should not head the party. So far no political party is adhering to the basic norm of democracy that is separation of party control and running state affairs. The party should make the government accountable.
In utter violation of the Constitution, no party is holding elections as elsewhere in the world where bona fide democracy exists. This is the main area where we need to focus before talking of economic revival. Authoritarianism is apparent in our political culture.
No one should be indispensible. Individuals come and go—what matters is welfare of masses, effective functioning of institutions and enforcement of rule of law. Democratisation of political parties, accountability of all and supremacy of the Constitution alone can strengthen democracy—this is also necessary to check external institutional influence and control of party by those having money power.
It is time to reform all institutions and ensure economic progress of Pakistan for which a detailed roadmap is given in Friend for all seasons, Narratives, May 8, 2021 explaining what we can learn from our most trusted friend China while celebrating 70 years of cherished relations and the importance of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The recent article by Shakeel Ahmad Ramay, Fixing the economy and CPEC, The News, April 11, 2022, gives many pragmatic solutions for fixing the economy as well as CPEC and the following paragraph is worth quoting:
“In the conclusion, ruling elite, new government and parties will have to work on four areas, which is pre-requisite to make the CPEC cooperation a success. First, the ruling elite will have to put the house in order and political elite will have to come of out mentality of self-greatness. Second, government will have to devise SEZs policy and cooperate agriculture policy immediately.
Third, there should be no political games or point scoring to present itself champion of China-Pakistan brotherhood. As China does not care about parties or individuals, China only cares about State of Pakistan and People of Pakistan. Especially PMLN and PPPP will have to learn this and they must avoid self-projection on this front”.
The salient points for consideration of all political parties and national debate to evolve National Reforms Agenda, beyond party affiliations, before next elections can be:
- Creating new province — South Punjab Province — for which constitutional amendment bill is already lying in National Assembly, filed on March 24, 2022.
- Making Karachi federal territory to ensure that it gets due funds and best administration.
- Carrying out fundamental reforms in the justice system and in administrative/governance apparatuses to eliminate the causes of litigation. Ensuring efficacy and accountability of all institutions.
- Revamping of education system to end ignorance and illiteracy, and make people skilful rather than distributing paper degrees and diplomas. Focal point of education should be creating a society that is tolerant, disciplined, courteous and knowledgeable — capable of making innovations and technological advances.
- Holding direct elections of Senate and giving it powers to vote on Money Bill.
- Decentralising political, administrative and financial responsibility to local governments. Education, health, housing, local policing, and all civil amenities should be provided through elected representatives of the local governments that should have powers to raise taxes for these purposes.
- Digitizing, enforcing transparency and accountability in the governments at all levels to enable citizens to understand and participating fully in the process of national integration.
- Reforming civil services, ensuring fair deal for employees with effective and across the board accountability.
- Eliminating terrorism, sectarianism, bigotry, intolerance and violence through enforcement of law and by taking concrete measures to ensure social development of society based on higher values of life and humanity.
- Implementing strict laws to curb terrorist financing, money laundering, plundering of national wealth, political write off of loans and leakages in revenue collections.
- Devising long-term and short-term strategies to break the shackles of debt-trap, making Pakistan a self-reliant economy and ensuring social security and economic justice for all citizens.
- Reforming and strengthening of management of public finances. Transparent public sector spending coupled with efficient performance.
- Controlling wasteful, non-developmental expenditure.
- Reforming of technical, institutional and organizational dimensions of public finance.
- Ensuring good governance and corruption free administrative and judicial structures.
- Federal government should only collect income tax and customs duty. Harmonised sales tax on goods and services should be in the provincial domain. All federal, provincial and local taxes should be collected through one agency (National Tax Authority) which should also disburse pensions and other social security payments to all citizens.
- Reducing excessive marginal tax rates making them compatible with other tax jurisdictions of the world, especially in Asia. Substantially reducing corporate rate of tax. Eliminating onerous taxes and other regulations for corporate sector that are main stumbling blocks for domestic and foreign investments. Simplifying tax laws and procedures.
Dr Nadeem Ul Haque, Vice Chancellor of PIDE, in How Pakistan Became an Asian Tiger by 2050 has offered an optimistic, futuristic and realistic perspective for a prosperous Pakistan. Unfortunately, this work has yet not been given the attention it deserves by policymakers, legislators, academicians, businessmen and administrators.
Our politicians, administrators, intelligentsia and entrepreneurs keep on complaining about multiple and complex challenges faced by Pakistan but seldom strive to implement even the available and workable solutions by local experts. We want IMF, World Bank and others to reform us. This is our real tragedy and dilemma.
We must appreciate and implement the indigenous research-based solutions after debate in public and in national and provincial assemblies and Senate. The Standing and Special Committees should invite (through virtual platforms if needed) experts for assisting and there should be live telecast so that public learns the process of legislation for beneficial reforms.
Russia-Ukraine War and Its Impact on the Global Economic System
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine will seriously affect the world economy in many ways. Changes in supply and demand in areas of energy and commodities will undoubtedly exacerbate global inflationary pressures.
The major sanctions on Russia include: removing Russian banks from the Swift messaging system established for international transactions; freezing the assets of Russian companies and oligarchs in western countries; and restricting the Russian central bank from using its $630 billion (£473 billion) of foreign reserves. In response to these moves, Russia has been placed by financial institutions to junk status. In other words, the Russian default is certain.
It is estimated that between the Bank of Russia and the private sector, Russia contributes roughly $1 trillion to liquid global wealth, of which about $300 billion is deployed in money markets. Sanctions have almost disturbed the $1 trillion balance sheet globally, which will contribute to inflation and commodity prices
Following sanctions, the big western companies like Apple, Audi, BMW, Boeing, Coca-Cola, Dell, Ford, Netflix, Nike, Nestle, and Renault have either exited the country or closed their stores and stopped sales. Since Russia is one of the major producers of some important base metals such as titanium, nickel, palladium, and aluminium, their prices are also expected to increase. This increase will affect global industries, especially the automotive industry. There will also be an increase in agricultural products’ prices because of the war. More than a quarter of world wheat is produced by Russia and Ukraine. At the same time, corn, barley, and rapeseed prices will increase.
Geopolitical fracture lines build slowly over time, making it tempting to delay tough strategic realignments. But once those lines fracture, it is often too late to do anything.
European banks, particularly in Austria, France and Italy, are affected badly due to sanctions on Russia. France and Italy’s banks each have outstanding claims of about US$25 billion on Russian debt, while Austrian banks had US$17.5 billion.
Since 2014, financial institutions in the US have been decreasing their interaction with Russian banks. Still, Citigroup has a small portion of $ 10 billion exposure in Russian banks.
Ukraine is also on the verge of default. Ukraine’s $ 60 billion worth of bonds has also gone to junk status.
French banks BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole are the most exposed to Ukraine because of their local subsidiaries in the country. Societe Generale SA (SoCGen) and UniCredit the top EU banks, with the largest operations in Russia, are also among the most exposed to Russian debts. European, US and Japanese banks could face serious losses, potentially to the tune of US$150 billion.
Switzerland, Cyprus and the UK are the biggest destinations for Russian oligarchs seeking to store their cash overseas. Cyprus also attracts Russian wealth with golden passports. Financial institutions in these countries are all likely to lose business because of the sanctions. The share prices of UK banks Lloyds and NatWest are both down more than 10 per cent since the start of the invasion.
Apart from banks, the war is going to lead to substantial losses for many businesses with interests in Russia. Any companies that are owed money by Russian businesses are going to struggle to get repaid, given that the ruble is down 30 per cent and the Swift restrictions are going to make payments very difficult. US companies have about US$15 billion of exposure to Russia. Many of these debts will potentially end up being written off, causing serious losses.
Some oil companies like Shell and BP have decided to offload assets that they own in Russia. Others such as trading and mining group Glencore, which has significant stakes in two Russia-linked companies, Rosneft and En+ Group, are reviewing their investment status. But if the value of these assets evaporates because there are no buyers at sensible prices, companies like these could be looking at substantial write-downs.
this means that international capital is seeking new safe-haven, bringing incremental international capital to China’s domestic capital market, making China’s financial market one of the beneficiaries of the crisis. However, China’s ability to maintain the stability of its surrounding environment remains a major consideration for international capital flows in the face of growing geopolitical competition and conflict.
The economic and financial sanctions imposed by the US and Europe will exacerbate Russia’s recession. Nonetheless, Russia can still utilize its energy resources for its geopolitical interest. Russia is said to have substantially raised natural gas prices. European natural gas prices have soared by 41 per cent. In addition, nearly 35 per cent of palladium, an important element used in the US semiconductor industry, was imported from Russia. Once Russia stops supplying palladium to the United States, the shortage of chips in the US will be exacerbated. At the same time, 90 per cent of neon, another element used in the US semiconductor industry, was imported from Ukraine. A sharp increase in the price of neon as a result of the war could also have some impact on the US semiconductor industry. Some market institutions have analyzed that crude oil prices may once again exceed the USD 140 mark, which will benefit Russia, a major energy exporter, enough to compensate for the losses caused by rising financial settlement costs. Russia has great exposure to the UK, and as the result of the conflict, it is expected that the impact on the UK could be to reduce GDP growth by around 0.8 per cent to 4.0 per cent in 2022 and 0.5 per cent in 2023. The UK draws most of its gas imports from Norway and produces a sizeable chunk of its own gas needs, so interruptions in supply would be less likely, but it would suffer from higher wholesale gas prices.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict has become an economic skirmish as much as it is a geopolitical war.
As geopolitical conflict intensifies, this change will have implications for the long-term evolution of global financial capital markets. Geopolitical fracture lines build slowly over time, making it tempting to delay tough strategic realignments, but once those lines fracture, it is often too late to do anything but react. The Russia-Ukraine war is a warning that how suddenly geopolitical motion can accelerate. Businesses should consider their risk exposures carefully. These recent events should raise the premium for home market strength and increase the discount for far-afield holdings.
Stronger Contractionary Monetary Policy Needed to Achieve ‘Stabilizing Expectations’ for China
The escalation to war in Ukraine and the series of sanctions against Russia by Europe and the United States has acerbated the volatility of the global financial and energy markets. The increased geopolitical risks have also had a serious impact on the global economy. International institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank have issued warnings one after another that China’s economy will face new challenges as energy supply and demand fluctuate and supply chain distortions intensify. This change in the situation has already affected
China’s domestic capital market. Recently, the common stock market (A-shares) has been volatile, reflecting investors’ gloomy outlook on the capital market and China’s economy. According to the theory of behavioral economics, changes in expectations will affect future economic activity.
This is not only an issue of economic confidence but it also affects the behavior of residents and enterprises in the future on economic activities such as consumption and investment, which will have a substantial impact on the micro and macroeconomy. ANBOUND researchers believe that China will need to adjust and respond to macroeconomic policies, especially to promote further easing of monetary policy in taming market concerns and provide substantial support for “steady growth”.
At The Two Sessions this year, the government’s Work Report put forward the goal of achieving economic growth of 5.5% this year, and at the same time emphasized increasing macro-policy to support the economy. According to the current market reaction, some scholars and research institutions believe that the economic growth target of 5.5% has fallen significantly compared to last year’s economic growth rate of 8.1%.
However, due to the chaos brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the average growth rate in the past two years was only 5.1%. Therefore, when the impact of the pandemic is removed and the economy returns to “normal”, it is challenging to achieve the economic growth target of 5.5% this year. The further formation of endogenous power is needed and it also requires macro-policy support to stabilize demand.
Some researchers have mentioned that the current target of 5.5% has a positive effect on enhancing market confidence and expectations, but to achieve the economic growth target, the main path is to build infrastructure to support the economy and wait for the real estate market to stabilize.
It is anticipated that the pandemic control measures might be reduced, allowing consumption to rebound. However, the market emphasis point remains primarily dependent on whether the real estate market is improving, and there is little “enthusiasm” about the expansion infrastructure. Under this situation, the “stabilizing expectation” effects of positive fiscal policy are still limited. Judging from the latest CPI and PPI data, the consumer price level continues to be depressing while the production price level has risen.
This represented the fact that the development of China’s domestic consumer demand and investment needs is continually diminished, while the pressure on business expenses from PPI stays constant. Coupled with the recent continuous fluctuations in the A-share market, various situations show that changes in market expectations still reflect the contradictions on the demand side.
This means that China’s overall economic growth will still be a process of “drilling the bottom”. Although fiscal spending will expand this year, in terms of China’s current economic size, its intensity is still in the “steady” category, and the support and coordination of monetary policy are still needed to unleash the effectiveness of the easing policy.
At the same time, ANBOUND also pointed out that the Russia-Ukraine crisis has further worsened the international geopolitical environment and increased the uncertainty of the global economy. Changes in the current economic situation show that the market still has an urgent need for macroeconomic policies, especially monetary policy support. Therefore, researchers at ANBOUND believe that it is still necessary to further ease monetary policy at present to help the economy achieving a “soft landing” as soon as possible by releasing policy space.
Since the fourth quarter last year, monetary policy has turned to ease and has provided substantial support for economic stability through comprehensive reduce moderately the Required Reserve Ratio (RRR) and interest rate.
However, following China’s Spring Festival, the rate of this continual easing decreased and market liquidity was recycled. On the one hand, the market needs to digest the impact of the easing policy and improve the effectiveness of the policy; on the other hand, it is also a signal for the policy to remain stable, to avoid misleading the market causing “waterfall”.
However, in terms of the forward-looking, precise, and sustainable monetary policy, considering the new situation and changes in market expectations, monetary policy needs to be adjusted promptly, seize the time window, and further reduce market interest rates to stabilize short-term market expectations and prevent panic in the capital market that would cause chain reaction.
Judging from the current changes in the capital market, the RMB exchange rate still shows a strong tendency to appreciate despite the intensified international geopolitical risks and the rebound of the U.S. dollar index. This may be the case though the Federal Reserve may end its balance sheet reduction and start raising interest rates in March. Appropriately lowering the interest rate level will not have a significant impact on the RMB exchange rate under the turbulent international situation.
Promoting further easing of the currency will help release the pressure of RMB appreciation and increase the profitability of Chinese export enterprises. Increasing currency liquidity and reducing financing costs are also beneficial to the domestic capital market, helping to stabilize asset prices and improve corporate profitability.
With the stability of China’s economic fundamentals, the stable income of its domestic capital market will remain attractive to international capital. Under such circumstances, the impact of changes in the international policy environment on China is still manageable.
Most crucially, by releasing signals to consolidate the macroeconomy through monetary policy changes, the capital market and economic principals can turn their bearish expectations around. According to China’s existing conditions and stages, this will be the crucial key.
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