Janjua: Pakistan to supply food products to Russia of no inferior quality to those from Europe

    18 September 2014

Pakistani Ambassador to Russian Zaheer Aslam Janjua has given an interview to Interfax in which he discussed prospects for supplying more Pakistani food products to Russia and the quality of such products and invites Russian companies to implement infrastructure projects in Pakistan.

Question: Mister Ambassador, could you evaluate the 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 to offer. 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 means a small population. Russia is the biggest country in the world and we are a medium-size country. There is a tremendous potential for bilateral economic relations between our two countries. Unfortunately, in the previous years we have not been able to realize this potential. There is a host of reasons for that. I will not go into details but like I said in my opening remarks we have a commonality of views and an excellent mutual understanding at the highest level. So now Pakistan and the Russian Federation are making a conscious effort to develop our economic relationship. Our current trade these days is not commensurate with the potential that we have. 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. In the past we have been exporting several products to the Russian Federation. And we can provide a lot more, especially in the realm od agriculture. We are a country where large portion of gross domestic product comes from 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 to bring in other products. With the demand for agricultural products now on the rise because of the current situation, it’s safe for me to say that we are ready to make a positive contribution to our partnership and we are willing to provide the items that I have mentioned or any other item in demand in the Russian Federation.

Q.: So you think that our trade is on the rise?

A.: Yes, there is a considerable potential. After all, why not? It is our job, it is my job too. One of my main tasks is to increase trade and this is what we do. And I‘m sure that the Russian embassy in Islamabad, and my counterpart, the Russian ambassador, are 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 our cooperation.

Q.: How big could this increase be?

A.: This depends upon the situation, it depends upon the demand and it depends upon supply as well. I keep in touch with the concerned authorities in Moscow and we are working on it. So we shall see what the demand is and we shall see what we can do. Now I can say with confidence that we could at least partially satisfy the market demand; Russia is a big country and a big market, still we can play a significant role on the Russian market.

Q.: Will Pakistan be able to meet Russia‘s demand for meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables?

A.: Yes, Pakistan is able to partially satisfy the market demand in Russia. As I said, Russia is a big country and the market demand is high. No single country would be able to meet such demand. So we intend to make a positive contribution to the trade to partially satisfy the market demand.

Q.: Will your country be able to provide substitutes for products previously imported from the EU and the United States which now fall under restrictions, such as 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, partially satisfy the market 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 high demand, producers try to expand production. We do produce cheese, but also we have a lot of other items on the list. As I said, it’s meat and poultry, fruits and vegetables, seafood, etc.

Q.: What kind of seafood are you talking about?

A.: There is a high demand for shrimps for example, shrimps, prawns, shellfish. We can provide the Russian market with that. We can provide Russia with fish as well.

Q.: Do the Pakistani food products conform to the quality standards of food products which now fall under the import restrictions?

A.: Pakistan in the previous years has installed seafood processing plants 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. Everything we export meets these international standards.

Q.: What do you think, could these plans of increasing economic cooperation lead to progress in other areas?

A.: Of course, economic relations are an important component of international relations. Economic relations follow the money, we must follow the money. Economic relations usually determine the relations between nations, our countries make no exception. I must say there is a lot of potential for exports from Pakistan, there is also a potential for Russian companies to go to Pakistan and do business. Let me here highlight one field where 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 electricity. The government has embarked upon the following plan: the government wants to expand domestic power generating capacity by 20,000 megawatts. There are Russian companies which in the past have already constructed power generation plants in Pakistan. Those are at Muzaffarabad, Multan and Guddu. These Russian companies have come there and set up those power plants. These companies are professional, competent, they are in possession of advanced technology and we are in close contact with them. We invited them, and they are carrying out their studies in order to enter the market with their projects. There is a demand in our country for electricity generation by hydropower, for gas-fired and coal-fired generation 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, it’s transmission lines. As you produce electricity, you have to transmit it to consumers. So that is another issue.
Then there is another project launched long ago back in the Soviet days, which is the Pakistan Steel Mills in Karachi. We have certain plans for the refurbishment of the steel mills. Since it was constructed by Russian company called Tyazhpromexport, so a Russian company will be a reasonable choice.
There are several other infrastructure projects where 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 we do have a mutual political understanding at a high level. I think that prospects are very good.

Q.: What about 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 and in the 1970-s we were buying some military equipment from the Soviet Union, and then in early 2000-s we bought several Mi-17 helicopters which now make the backbone of our helicopter force. So there is a history of relations and not only it’s about Mi-35 helicopters, there is also a room for further military and technical cooperation between our two countries. So I will not confine it to Mi-35, I would say that we have a very good potential and perspective 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 Russia, tell us about it, 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 the case that if we develop relations with someone we can’t have any relations with someone else. We enjoy excellent relations with both Russia and the US, we want to have good relations with both of them. We pursue an independent foreign policy and we want to have good relations with everyone in our neighbourhood, in South Asia and on the world stage. I would say we turned towards Russia because we share common interests, we have a similar approach to many international issues. We now cooperate very closely with the Russian Federation. For example in the field of counterterrorism, in the field of counternarcotics etc. I think that our relations with Russia and with the US are not at all mutually exclusive. So it is our desire to develop further cooperation between Pakistan and the Russian Federation.

Q.: Is it true that the U.S. is trying to force some governments not to increase cooperation in food export with Russia?

A.: I don‘t think that the U.S. have such intentions, I have no information about that. As I said, we pursue an independent economic and foreign policies, it is not relevant to even pose such questions, because we will only make decisions in our best interests. So I don‘t think there is any such problem. We will act according to our own interests.