S’pore ‘best placed to invest in Pakistan’

* Benazir Bhutto on: ——————–
SINGAPORE, with its advanced economy and infrastructure, is best placed to invest in Pakistan, according to Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

In an interview with The Straits Times on the eve of her visit to the Republic, she said she would be inviting Singapore businessmen to take part in her country’s economic projects by setting up new enterprises or relocating their labour-intensive industries in Pakistan.

“I am confident that, once movement towards this direction starts, friendly relations that exists between our two countries will be further strengthened,” said Ms Bhutto who arrives today for a three-day official visit at the invitation of Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

During her stay here, she will meet President Ong Teng Cheong and hold talks with Mr Goh, who will host a dinner for her. Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will call on her separately.

Ms Bhutto, 41, responding to Straits Times questions, said Pakistan was taking steps to develop its infrastructure to attract foreign investment for power generation projects, and the telecommunication, precision engineering, petroleum, refining and electronics industries.

Singapore companies, which have a few investments in Pakistan – mainly in the services sector – could take part in its projects, she said. Both countries will sign an Investment Guarantee Agreement during her stay here.

She said that, besides highlighting investment opportunities in Pakistan, she would explain her country’s economic policies to the Republic’s leaders and businessmen.

“We have to a certain extent lagged behind in our development efforts. We have realised some of the fundamental flaws in our policies which we have now corrected.”

The Oxford-educated Pakistani leader began economic reforms immediately after her election as the country’s premier in October 1993 for a five-year term.

The measures included slashing government spending and encouraging greater privatisation and deregulation.

“The previous governments went in for short-term and quick-fix solutions,” she said. “Consequently, essential sectors of the economy, where long-term investments were required, were neglected.”

She said that, as a result of economic reform, “a lot of ground has been covered”. Pakistan had registered better reserves, a stable currency, increased exports and foreign investments.

Islamabad had also attracted S$24 billion worth of investments from the US, Hongkong and South Korea in energy-related projects in the last six months.

On bilateral trade with Singapore, she noted that the downward trend of the early 90s had been reversed. Pakistan is now Singapore’s 40th trading partner, with total trade last year amounting to S$574.1 million.

She said that Islamabad was keen on Singapore importing some of its non-traditional items. The Republic’s imports from Pakistan include textile yarn thread, leather, cotton and synthetic fabrics, raw cotton, clothing accessories and dried salted and smoked fish.

Singapore’s exports to Pakistan grew by 11.4 per cent last year. Major export items are synthetic fabrics, medicinal products, computers, disinfectants and crude rubber.

She suggested that there should be greater exchanges of businessmen from both countries.

Pakistan’s Board of Investments is also expected to organise a business seminar later this year to inform Singapore businessmen of investment opportunities in Pakistan.

Turning to Pakistan’s links with South-east Asia, Ms Bhutto said Islamabad was interested in developing bilateral relations with all countries in the region.

She added that her visit to the Philippines last month and now Singapore was “a manifestation of this desire”.

To remain engaged in the region, she said that Pakistan was interested in becoming a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and holding full dialogue status with Asean.

She said: “We have watched with great admiration the rapid economic and social transformation in South-east Asia. Pakistan will develop relations with this region which is the most dynamic part of the Asia-Pacific.”

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