Qatar has plans to expand its food security options in Pakistan and the state-owned corporation, Hassad Food, has opened an office in Lahore, Pakistan’s ambassador Mohamed Sarfraz A Khanzada told Gulf Times in an exclusive interview.
Lahore is the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province, which is known for its fertile agricultural lands.
Hassad Food was established by the Qatar Investment Authority in 2008 with a capital of $1bn to secure food supplies through agricultural investments worldwide.
It was after the then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s visit to Qatar in February 2012, Hassad Food showed interest in making investments in Pakistan.
Khanzada said Qatar was already getting rice from Pakistan. In April, 2012, Hassad Food had announced the launch of “Nathry Extra Long Basmati Rice” that mainly came from Pakistan.
Further expansion is now expected, the envoy said. “They’re also interested in building livestock breeding and milk farms, but so far the land required for it has not been given… I believe that now (all of this) is going to work out very soon because now they have a functional office in Lahore,” he said.
A major breakthrough in an LNG deal between Qatar and Pakistan is also on the cards.
“Things are progressing well on that front and I believe that very soon they will be finalised. Most probably, by the mid of this year the export of LNG from Qatar to Pakistan may begin,” he said.
When asked whether the LNG pricing was the only bottleneck in the deal, he said :“I think it is the only bottleneck. Recently, the Foreign Minister (Hina Rabbani Khar) came (to Doha on March 3) and met the (Qatari) oil minister. That problem, I believe, has been solved to some extent and a new offer has been made to Pakistan.”
The Pakistani media recently quoted petroleum adviser Dr Asim Hussain as saying that Qatar had offered to sell 2mn tonnes of LNG to Pakistan annually at reduced rates. Earlier, the Qatari government had offered LNG at around $18 per mmbtu and the new rate is expected to be $4 to $5 lower.
Previously, there was a plan to lay an undersea pipeline from Qatar to Pakistan and India called QPI. The ambassador said there were two reasons why that plan never materialised. India had concerns about it being passed through Pakistan and secondly, the entire proposition was found to be very expensive for all sides involved.
The envoy said that he didn’t believe that Qatar would be “bothered” about the recent pipeline agreement Pakistan signed with Iran.
Pakistan’s major imports from Qatar are petrochemical products that come to about $300m. Pakistan mostly exports rice, vegetables, fruits and some textiles to Qatar, which comes to around $95mn.
The ambassador said that Qatar had not invested very heavily in Pakistan because of certain conditions that they thought were not very comfortable to them.
“They only invested in one insurance company called the Pak-Qatar Takaful” which continues to earn very well and is expected to expand further.
However, the ambassador said a turn-around was expected and Qatari banks might open up in Pakistan. When President Zardari came to Qatar in November last year, interest was shown in opening up a Qatar Islamic bank in Pakistan. “Both sides are working on it. Soon they will also have a Qatari bank in Pakistan. In the past, they also had Doha Bank in Pakistan, which had branches in Karachi and Lahore. I think they are again thinking of re-launching these two branches,” he said.
Any new investments in Pakistan, however, are expected to come after the change in government because the country was going through an election year now, he said.
Ambassador Khanzada’s term in Qatar is nearing its end. After serving for around two years as Pakistan’s top diplomat in Doha, he has received his transfer orders to Sudan. His successor has been named and accepted by Qatar. A section of the press had termed his transfer as “out of the blue” since he was being moved after two instead of the normal three years. He rubbished the claims and clarified that it was a “totally normal routine transfer for any foreign service officer”.
He said that a posting is considered mature after two years. When asked about his exact date of departure, he said: “Most probably I will have some finalisation by mid-April. I don’t know for sure yet because there is going to be a change in government in Pakistan… I’m thinking I’ll still have six to eight weeks to finalise my move once I receive my appointment letter and credentials for the new country.”
Speaking about his major achievements as the ambassador, Khanzada said when he came to Qatar the relations between the two sides were lukewarm. But through his sustained efforts bilateral relations had improved considerably. Many high level visits from Pakistan, including that of the prime minister, who came to Qatar after nine years and of the president, who came after seven years, occurred during his tenure.
Many military trainers from Pakistan, naval ships, air force trainer aircraft also came to Qatar.
“We also signed seven different MoUs, out of which two were converted into proper agreements. We also got some manpower breakthroughs. During my tenure, so far we have got more than 4,000 Pakistanis here, which was only 1,600, let’s say in last five years.” Page 36