With financial aid on the agenda, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif embarks on his first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif is embarking on his first foreign visit after taking office earlier this month at the invitation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz. -Radio Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif embarked on his first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia on Thursday, seeking an additional $3.2 billion financial package from the kingdom amid dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

The Prime Minister is undertaking the three-day visit at the invitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.

A 13-member delegation including Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail and Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb is accompanying the Prime Minister.

MQM’s Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, MP Mohsin Dawar and federal ministers Shahzain Bugti and Chauhdry Salik Hussain are also part of the delegation.

Announcing the visit, the Foreign Office said it would be the prime minister’s first visit abroad after taking office earlier this month.

“During the visit, the Prime Minister will have bilateral interaction with Saudi leaders, with particular emphasis on promoting economic, trade and investment ties and creating greater opportunities for the Pakistani workforce. in Saudi Arabia. The two sides will also exchange views on a range of regional and international issues of mutual concern,” the FO statement read.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are bound by a brotherly relationship marked by mutual trust and understanding, close cooperation and an enduring tradition of mutual support. The people of Pakistan hold the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in high esteem.

“The bilateral relationship is complemented by close mutual collaboration in regional and international fora. Saudi Arabia is a member of the OIC Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is home to more than two millions of Pakistanis, contributing to the progress, prosperity and economic development of the two brotherly countries,” he added.

Financial assistance of $3.2 billion

Pakistan has decided to request an additional package of $3.2 billion from Saudi Arabia to bring the total facility to $7.4 billion from the existing $4.2 billion during the current visit of the Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, senior official sources confirmed in an interview with The News on Wednesday.

“We will ask the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to increase the amount of the deposit from $3 billion to $5 billion and to double the Saudi Oil Facility (SOF) from $1.2 billion to $2.4 billion. dollars, so the total package could be increased up to 7.4 dollars. billion during the visit of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

When one of the senior officials in the finance division was contacted and inquired about the package offered by Saudi Arabia, he replied, “We are requesting a deferred payment facility and increased credit for the forex support.”

Pakistan will also apply for an extension of the existing $4.2 billion envelope for one year until June 2023 to bring it in line with the IMF program, as Islamabad has already requested the Fund to extend for nine months the existing Expanded Financing Facility (EFF). through June 2023 coupled with the increase in program size from $6 billion to $8 billion.

Saudi Arabia had already extended $3 billion in deposits to Pakistan and a deferred payment oil facility worth $1.2 billion during the tenure of the last PTI-led regime. The deposits were disbursed in December 2021, while the Saudi Oil Facility (SOF) started in March 2022 and so far $100 million has been disbursed.

Saudi Arabia had imposed strict conditions on the latest $4.2 billion package and tied it to the IMF program.

The IMF program is expected to be revived by the end of June 2022 if everything is sorted out as Islamabad needs a respite for a period of three months.

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