——An Exclusive Interview with the New Pakistani Ambassador
by Meng Lingjuan
Ms. Naghmana Alamgir Hashmi, Pakistani new Ambassador to China, gave an exclusive interview to China Economic Net in late September. After a brief comment on the Pakistan Embassy Beijing Mango Festival, the Ambassador answered wittily the ten hot economic topics raised by CEN, including FTA ratification, Sukkur Multan highway operation and sugar export to China etc.
Ambassador: Mango is one of our leading export products. This was the third mango festival that we have organized in Beijing, which was so successful, so beautiful and so enjoyable and I was so happy to see a very large number of our friends coming here to attend the festival to taste mango, to taste the various products that we make from mango and one day we hope to see Pakistani mangoes being sold in supermarkets and markets all over China.
Pakistani Ambassador Ms. Hashmi is interviewed by Deputy Chief Editor of China Economic Net Meng Lingjuan in late September at the Embassy in Beijing. Photo by Pei Xiaoge/CEN
Two things can be done to reduce the prices of Pakistani mangoes
Reporter: This is why we have introduced Fruitong and Suning to come here. Based on our investigation, not only the taste of Pakistani mango is extraordinary, but the price is very affordable in your country. However when they export to China, the price is not competitive here. So how to work together to solve this problem?
Ambassador: There are two or three things that can be done to begin with. The price of a local product is always cheaper in the country that it's produced. So by the time you export, their duties, taxes, then the processes are involved. It either has to be sanitized by heat water, vapor or through other technologies. Those technologies are not very easily available in Pakistan. So one thing where China can actually help to reduce the price of our agriculture products, particularly mango and other delicate fruit is by having joint ventures and setting up along with the growers and exporters on the farm at reasonable price, so that we meet all the requirements of importing fruit and vegetable in China. That will help greatly.
Secondly, I think with the completion of CPEC and the establishment of cold chains, lot of projects can then be transported by road and they won't have to be airlifted. Mangoes cannot be shipped up to now, because it has very short shelf life and by road with a cold chain is also necessary for fisheries and other agricultural products, so that is another area where I think a lot of our Chinese friends and investors have an opportunity to do business in Pakistan, which would be mutually beneficial to the importers and the exporters, and is a nice way of introducing good Pakistani agricultural products at reasonable prices here in China.
Updated FTA to be operational shortly
Reporter: In regard of Pakistan's export to China, there was an increase of $ 97.8 million in last fiscal year of Pakistan. What is your comment, while the 2nd CIIE is coming?
Ambassador: Actually the free trade agreement will hopefully be implemented shortly, because it's still going through the internal processes of being ratified. We hope that in the next few months, it will become operational. With the FTA becoming operational, the prices will in any way go down, because the import duties will not apply then.
Secondly, as you know, we have just now in the process of completing the first phase of CPEC and the second phase of CPEC has now started, which is actually the establishment of special economic zones in various parts of the country. So with the establishment of these special economic zones and with the increasing number of agreements and cooperation in the agricultural sector, which is a priority both with President Xi and with our Prime Minister Imran Khan, I think this is one area where there is huge potential of both investments, growth and then re-export of those value added products to China.
Reporter: You have mentioned ”shortly in a few months” FTA will be operational. Could you please be a little bit specific? Last time it is said in July.
Ambassador: That depends on how quickly, because on our side all the procedures have been completed. On the Chinese side, there are a few procedures which are left. So we think it is going to be sooner rather than later. We just need to wait a little more, because governmental procedures have to take. But I think it will be very shortly very, very shortly.
"'Delay' of the operation of Sukkur Multan motorway is not accurate"
Reporter: Noted. Then let's go to the construction and infrastructure. It is reported that there was a delay maybe several months ago, but now it's become better. CEN is the first media already going all way along the Sukkur Multan motorway. I was told that operation of that motorway has been delayed. Why?
Ambassador: In English they say Rome was not built in a day. Even when you want to do something small, you think it’ll be done in a week, but it can take 10 days. So similarly is the case with large projects. These are huge projects, so some delays is normal. It's nothing to really be very alarmed about. And with this particular project, the actual project itself has been completed. So the highway is there. But then along with this highway, there are certain other things that need to be established. For example, the barriers along the road have to be put in place. That work is ongoing. The lights have to be put. The police force for that particular highway is being raised. So those little things are left. It's just like when you build a house, the construction is complete, you still need to have the decoration done. But the project itself, which is the highway itself, is complete.
Reporter: So delay of the operation may not be an accurate word?
Ambassador: Delay is not a very accurate word. And as I have said, the delay is not alarming. A couple of months here, a couple of months there in large projects are not delays, but the work and the commitment to have this highway operational as soon as possible is going on full steam. So there's nothing to really worry about.
Reporters from China Economic Net and Express Daily go all way along the Motorway 5 from Multan to Sukkur on August 31st. It is at Sukkur after 392 km’s trip.
Reporter: I was told while trying to do transfer of this motorway after construction, sometimes direct communication or contact has been avoided, because it's a Chinese project, maybe not 100% supported by some government organs.
Ambassador: Who doesn't want to contact? No, I think that's a completely wrong perception. Mark my words, all CPEC projects have absolute and full support of the government of Pakistan, of the people of Pakistan, of all the political parties across the political divide. So there is no confusion or no controversy on either the importance of CPEC or the importance of completing the projects in time. And some of the projects, as you know, it has been completed even before time. There is absolutely no, as you said, disinterest or whatever. Our Prime Minister has met President Xi twice and he has very clear and categorical terms conveyed to the Chinese leadership that commitment to CPEC and to BRI is absolute and unshakable.
Reporter: So everything is just technical imperfection?
Ambassador: You can say technical hiccups, nothing else.
"The policy of visa application for Chinese businessmen didn't change"
Reporter: I did interview in Pakistan. Those Chinese who work there said the duration of visa once became shorter. It was not convenient.
Ambassador: No. I think it depends on the type of visa that you have applied for and the project or the requirement for you to be in Pakistan. A lot of the time if they have applied for three months, they'll get it for three months. But for Chinese, as you know, we have on arrival visa policy and now we also have visa online. So I don't think there should be a problem. Maybe some people only apply for three months and then they realize that they needed for more than three months. They don't need to come back. They can apply at the concern department in Pakistan and it's very easily extended.
Reporter: So the policy didn't change itself?
Ambassador: No. How can our visa policy change? We are liberalizing. One of the first countries with which we’ve liberalized visa regime is China. There is so much work going on. There's so much people to people contact. There's so much political contact.
Our Prime Minister himself said about six months ago we liberalized the visa regime for 94 countries. Pakistan is an open country. We have nothing to hide. We're not like the Indian occupied Kashmir, where people can’t go. You can go anywhere in Pakistan. You're very welcome.
"Through CEN I would like to request Chinese to register cell phones at Pakistani airports"
Reporter: Thank you. This time when we went there in September, I bought a new SIM card. I had already bought one in the past and then the new one didn't work either.
Ambassador: Look, there is always a reason behind things. In Pakistan because of the problems that we were having in the region, which I hope will now settle down and we were also hosting five million refugees. There were a lot of people who were misusing this particularly when there was a lot of terrorism going on. So in order to control that, we have made a policy. I can't go and buy a SIM and not register it. Every foreigner who comes to visit Pakistan and even Pakistanis, it's not only for foreigners, any traveler who's living abroad and is coming home, like I'm a government servant, I'm the Ambassador here, but when I go back, then at the airport, I need to register my phone. And that takes five minutes. So if your phone is registered at the airport and you only have to do once, nobody will stop you. But if your phone is not registered, then it becomes a problem.
So please, through you I would like to request all our Chinese friends going to Pakistan that there are big booths at the airport where kindly register your phone. So if your phone is registered, your SIM will work. There's absolutely no problem.
Reporter: Some of my Chinese friends told me I had to pay tax for my cell. The amount of the tax is similar to the price of my cell.
Ambassador: No. That is also totally wrong. The policy is very different. You're using a phone, you take it, you register it, you come back with the phone. But if you are importing new phones, like if you have a phone that you are using, but you also have one more phone, then you can only bring one phone with you, the other phone you have to pay duty. And this is to stop smuggling. Because what people used to do, they used to buy a lot of cell phones, have a suitcase full of cell phones, and just bring them and not pay duty. So this is to stop smuggling. This is not to stop the communication. So if you have a phone that you're using, you register it, you bring it. They know that you're going back. You're not leaving the phone here. But if you have new phones, so in one year, one visitor can only bring one new phone. Like when I go to Pakistan, then in one year, apart from the phone that I'm using, I can take one phone, because if I take ten more, then I have to pay the duty, like in any other country.
"I have a Huawei phone. I love it. It's very good."
Reporter: Maybe there's another question. That is I have my previous cell phone number----the domestic one, a Chinese number. When I go to Pakistan, I have to buy a new Pakistan number.
Ambassador: That doesn't really matter then. I'm coming from Brussels. I was supposed there and they needed a SIM. So you go to the airport, there's a shop, you show them your passport, they register the SIM and give it to you.
Reporter: So I can keep my previous one.
Reporter: In that case, I can have two. Okay, now I got it.
Ambassador: Because if you're traveling too often all over the world, you should in any case have a phone that has double SIMs. Keep one Pakistani and one Chinese. It works.
Reporter: Then Apple phone is not good enough. Apple phone has one SIM card.
Ambassador: You are Chinese. You should buy a nice Huawei phone. I'm a Pakistani, I have a Huawei phone. I love it. It's very good.
Gemstones a potential area to look for Chinese JVs
Reporter: Nice. Thank you for saying so. Exploring CPEC is trying to find special CPEC products. Could you please give us some potential Pakistani categories, so as to introduce to Chinese people?
Ambassador: Look, there are certain products which have traditionally come to China, which are very much appreciated here. We export a lot of rice to China, not Basmati. Basmati is not that popular in China. We have another category of rice which is very close to the Chinese kind. My daughters actually also like Chinese rice better than Basmati and that's called 86. It's the small glutinous rice. So there's a huge market for that here.
Then sugar is increasingly being imported in China. And sugar is very good quality. And yarn, we produce a lot of cotton and you have a huge textile industry. So yarn comes to China.
And then of course, we have a lot of stones, for example, we produce the best onyx in the world. I mean Balochistan is the only area in the world that produces onyx. And Chinese people love onyx. Then a lot of gold and copper comes from our mines to here. So we have a lot of potential both in minerals and in gemstones, because in our northern areas, they're full of beautiful gemstones. We do not have that advanced technology to polish and create them. So that is another area where we are looking for potential joint ventures. Because the Chinese make beautiful jewelry, they really know how to carve the stones. And if your technicians, your machinery and your importers of stone or producers of jewelry and other things of stones can have joint ventures with them, then we have serpentine, we have onyx, we have rubies and pearls, and goodness knows what else. So you can bring those stones to China. There's another area. We export a lot of leather products which are very good in Pakistan.
And the area that has the most potential and again the area that has the focus of the leadership of both countries is agricultural products, development of farms, research in hybrid seeds, research and cooperation in the area that you put in the ground for cultivation. Then there is a huge prospect of cooperation in drip irrigation, because we are now trying to go to drip irrigation because of the shortage of water. China is one of the leading countries that have really made very good use of drip irrigation. So I think agriculture is one area where there is a huge potential of further cooperation and joint ventures and investments. And then, of course, export of the materials to China and beyond China also.
Basmati rice not open in regard of Chinese hybrid seed technology
Reporter: You just mentioned agriculture products. There is hybrid seed technology from Mr. Yuan Longping. It is one of the key cooperations in regard of technology between the two countries.
Reporter: Based on my interview, some people in your country, they like the hybrid seeds in regards of sticky rice, but they don't want hybrid seed technology for Basmati rice, maybe in order to keep the high price?
Ambassador:It's not even high price. I think they also feel that if they develop a hybrid quality of Basmati rice, then it's a patent for Pakistan Basmati rice and it may lose its aroma and its taste. We want absolutely pure Basmati. So I think they want to preserve the originality and the texture and the aroma and the length of Basmati. I think that is why they don't want to open Basmati.
"I am sure next year you'll get more sugar from Pakistan"
Reporter: Just now you mentioned sugar as well. Sugar is very sensitive in Chinese market. This year you have quota to export to China. People here are looking forward to knowing the information about next year.
Ambassador: I think next year also, because for our growers, exporters and manufacturers of sugar, it's a new product that we have introduced in Chinese market. Once the word goes around that this was a successful venture, I am sure next year you'll get more and the year after you might even get more.
Reporter: From your country?
Ambassador: Why not?
Reporter: Then Indian people will envy you.
Ambassador: They envy us in everything. They don't admit it. We're better than them in everything. But my friend China is a friend of both Pakistan and India, but Pakistan is an iron brother friend. There is a difference.
A very good idea to combine expertise from three countries
Reporter: And then may I ask the last item you have mentioned just now, yarn? There's a very interesting point. That is we import yarn from your country and then fabric here, we make it fabric in China
Ambassador: And then go back to Pakistan?
Reporter: No, go to South Korea for the design. So it's a chain, from Pakistan, China, South Korea, and export to European countries. Just now the President of CEN suggested in his welcoming speech, maybe three countries can work together. We are trying to introduce South Korean’s know-how about export, because they are number one in regard of export, we have deficit every year---about 96 billion US dollars last year. So what is your point?
Ambassador: We've always had very good relations with South Korea and we have a very good export trade with South Korea. And I think it's a very, very good idea, because nowadays everything has become multilateral. Even if you want to produce a bicycle, ten parts will come from ten different countries. So I think it's a very good idea that you pick up one expertise from one country, another from another country, and one advantage of a third country join together. I think this is very, very good. Our world is progressing and the three are friendly countries, there should not be a problem.
Reporter: Thank you very much. The last question. Today is the launch of the micro documentary Exploring CPEC at the Embassy, the first episode. Please give some good wishes for it.
Ambassador: We will work together and we will make sure that both the people of Pakistan and the people of China explore, enjoy and work hard to realize the full potential of CPEC and the full potential of BRI for the social, economic development and benefit of the people of both countries.
Reporter: Thank you so much.
Ambassador: You're welcome.
The Ambassador sits quietly and tells the reporter not to disturb anyone. Photo by Meng Lingjuan/CEN
Before the interview, a couple of Pakistani media reporters saw that the cameras had been prepared and wanted to interview Wang Xudong, the President of CEN who attended the Mango Festival as well. When the Ambassador came in, she sat quietly and told the reporter not to disturb anyone. So there has been this rare photograph of the Ambassador’s waiting.
（Recorded by Fu Bo,Chen Jinglin）