Pakistani Ambassador to Russia Zaheer Aslam Janjua: Pakistan to supply food products to Russia no inferior in quality to Europe‘s
Pakistani Ambassador to Russia Zaheer Aslam Janjua has given an interview to Interfax in which he speaks about prospects for supplying more Pakistani food products to Russia, the quality of such products and invites Russian companies to implement infrastructural projects in Pakistan.Question Mister Ambassador, could you at first evaluate present relations between Russia and Pakistan?
Answer Pakistan and the Russian Federation enjoy close and cordial relations. We have common positions on most international issues. We cooperate very closely bilaterally, as well as in multilateral and regional formats. We are not exactly neighbors but we live in the same neighborhood. We have a commonality of interests in the region. I would say that politically Pakistan and Russia are close. Pakistan favors a multipolar world. We consider Russia to be a great power. Russia is an energy superpower. Russia is the biggest country in the world and it has a lot of positives, a lot to offer to the world. Talking about trade and economic relations, let me say that Pakistan has a population of 185 million people. Russia has a population of 140 million people. So if you add that up, it is 325 million people, which is by no standard a small population. Russia is the biggest country areawise and we are a medium-size country. There is tremendous potential for bilateral economic relations between the two countries. Unfortunately, in the previous years we have not been able to realize this potential. There are a host of reasons for that. I will not go into details but as I said in my opening remarks we have a commonality of views and an excellent understanding at the highest level. So now there is a conscious effort on part of both Pakistan and the Russian Federation to increase our economic relations. Our current trade is not commensurate with the potential that exists. It is a little less than $550 million which is minuscule considering the size of populations of our countries and the areas of our countries. We in the past have been exporting several items to the Russian Federation. And we can provide a lot more things, especially agricultural products in the current situation. We are a country, where large portion of gross domestic product comes fr om agriculture. We are ready to provide agricultural products, fruits and vegetables, meat and poultry, seafood and other items that may be required. We have high quality agriculture products which can be exported to the Russian Federation. Our potatoes and citrus fruits are already coming to the Russian Federation and we hope that we would expand this portfolio and we will bring in other products. With the demand for agricultural products now on the rise because of the current situation, I can very happily say that we will make a positive contribution towards this and we are willing to provide the items that I have mentioned or any other item for which there is demand in the Russian Federation.
Q.: So the amount of our trading is going to be increased?
A.: Yes, there is a big potential. Why not? It is our job, it is my job. One of the items I am supposed to do as ambassador is to increase trade and we are working on that. And I‘m sure that the Russian embassy in Islamabad, my counterpart, the Russian ambassador, is doing the same thing as well. So yes, there is a lot of potential and we are very cognizant of it and there is a will on both sides to increase this cooperation.
Q.: How big could this increase be?
A.: This depends upon the situation, it depends upon the demand and it depends upon supply. I am in close touch with the concerned authorities in Moscow and we are working on it. So we shall see what is the demand and we shall see what we can supply. I can say with a lot of confidence that while we will not be able to provide the whole demand, because Russia is a big country and the demand is huge, we can make a significant contribution.
Q.: Will Pakistan be able to meet Russia‘s demand for meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables?
A.: Yes, Pakistan is able to meet a part of it. As I said, Russia is a big country and the demand is huge. No single country would be able to meet the demand. So we will make a positive contribution and we will meet a part of the demand.
Q.: Will your country be able to substitute products the import of which fr om the EU and the United States Russia has limited, for example hard cheese and marbled beef?
A.: Of course, we export meat, fruits, vegetables, poultry and seafood and we also export dairy products. So we can, as I said, fulfill part of the demand. It depends on what is the demand for. Cheese can be of different varieties. And we can fulfill some of the demand. If there is a demand a producer always tries to supply. We do produce cheese but our expertise is in a lot of other items as well. As I said meat and poultry, fruits and vegetables, seafood, etc.
Q.: What kind of seafood are you talking about?
A.: There is a big demand for shrimps for example, shrimps, prawns, shellfish. We can provide that. We can provide different types of fish as well.
Q.: Is the quality of Pakistani food products competitive with the quality of products the import of which Russia limited?
A.: Pakistan has installed in the previous years seafood processing plants and they are in compliance with the European Union standards. So, in the age of globalization you cannot sell a product unless it meets certain standards. As for food, there are ISO standards, international standards. Anything we export has to meet these international standards.
Q.: How do you think, could these plans of increasing economic cooperation lead to an increase in other areas?
A.: Of course, economic relations are very important. Economic relations are where the money is and of course money is important in any kind of relationship. Economic relations are a big factor which determines the overall relationship between two countries. I must say there is a lot of potential for exports from Pakistan, there is also potential for Russian companies to go to Pakistan and do business. Let me here highlight one field wh ere there is a tremendous potential. As I said we are a country of 185 million people, our economy is growing and we are short of power, electricity. The government has embarked upon a plan: the government wants to expand and enhance electricity generation capacity by another 20,000 megawatts. There are Russian companies which have in past constructed power generation units in Pakistan. They are at Muzaffarabad, Multan and Guddu. These Russian companies have gone there and installed their projects. These companies are professional, competent, have advanced technology and we are in close contact with them. We have invited them, and they are carrying out studies for entering into market with the projects. There is scope for electricity generation in hydel, in gas-fired and there are many projects in coal-fired field as well. The Russian Federation has the technology, as well as the capability, to set up these plants; to go into the Pakistani market and install these plants.
There is another related field, which is transmission lines. When you produce electricity, you have to transmit it for consumption. So that is another field.
Then there is another old project from the Soviet days, which is the Pakistan Steel Mills in Karachi. There are plans for the refurbishment of the steel mills. Since it was constructed by Russian company called Tyazhpromexport, so a Russian company should be the logical choice.
There are several other infrastructure projects wh ere Russian companies can make an impact. There is a tremendous potential for the enhancement of bilateral relations in the economic field and as I said political relations are already at a high level. I think that prospects are very good.
Q.: What is the state of our military-technical cooperation? Is Pakistan going to buy a new batch of Mi-35?
A.: We have a history of military and technical cooperation, first with the USSR and then with the Russian Federation. In the 1960-s we bought some military equipment from the Soviet Union, in the 1970-s we again bought equipment, and then in early 2000-s we bought several Mi-17 helicopters which are now the backbone of our helicopter aviation. So there is a history of relations and not only there is a potential for Mi-35 helicopters, there is potential for much more military and technical cooperation between the two countries. So I will not confine it to Mi-35, I would say that very good potential and perspective exists in the field of military and technical cooperation.
Q.: Some experts say that previously Pakistan was closer to the U.S. than to Russia, now your country is turning to be closer to ours, is it true, what do you think?
A.: Pakistan‘s relations with the United States and Pakistan’s relations with the Russian Federation are not a zero-sum game. It is not that if we have relations with one, we don‘t have relations with the other. We enjoy excellent relations with both the countries; we want to have good relations with both of them. We follow an independent foreign policy and we want to have good relations with everyone in our neighborhood, in South Asia, in our greater neighborhood and on the world stage. I would say we turned towards Russia as we have a lot of commonality of interests, we have a lot of understanding on international and regional issues. We cooperate very closely with the Russian Federation. Say for example in the field of counterterrorism, in the field of counternarcotics, and in regional organizations. I think that the relations are not mutually exclusive and there is a desire on part of both Pakistan and the Russian Federation to enhance these relations.
Q.: Is it true for your country that the U.S. is trying to force some governments not to increase cooperation in a food export with Russia?
A.: I don‘t think that U.S. has asked us for that, I have no information about that. As I said, we follow an independent economic and foreign policy, it is not appropriate to even ask this question, because we will do what is best for us. So I don‘t think there is any pressure. We will act according to our own interests.