Some Pakistanis may have a negative perception about the United States, but capital market professionals know perfectly well that the world’s biggest economy has traditionally been the largest foreign direct investor in the country.
Hence, it was least surprising to see a shining red carpet laid out neatly at the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE) building to welcome US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) CEO Elizabeth L Littlefield, who visited the bourse along with US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson, on Thursday.
“The red carpet reminds me of the message I got in Islamabad yesterday about turning red tape into a red carpet for investors,” she said while speaking to KSE officials and executives of US-origin companies listed on the KSE after striking the gong to formally start the day’s trading session.
OPIC is the US government’s development finance institution, which supports American businesses investing in emerging markets to address critical development challenges. Its current portfolio stands at $16.4 billion.
Speaking on the occasion, Ambassador Olson said OPIC has been investing in Pakistan for four decades. It has supported 123 projects in areas like telecommunications, technology and foods besides helping small businesses obtain financing, he added.
OPIC’s portfolio in Pakistan is around $299 million and spread across 14 projects, he noted. “OPIC helps mobilise US private-sector investments in Pakistan to propel sustainable economic growth and job creation,” he said.
Despite the fact that foreign direct investment (FDI) into Pakistan plummeted in recent years across the board, FDI from the US between July 2012 and May 2013 remained at $213.6 million, which is over 16% of the total FDI Pakistan received in the 11-month period.
Littlefield’s visit builds upon the US-Pakistan Business Opportunities Conference that took place in Dubai on June 25 and 26. The conference brought together US and Pakistani companies looking for new trade and investment opportunities.
“This visit demonstrates our commitment to build a relationship with Pakistan based on trade and investment, not just aid,” he added.
Replying to a question about how soon investment opportunities in Pakistan can be translated into real business, Littlefield said it depended mainly on how quickly OPIC partners could complete documentation and due diligence.
Referring to OPIC-supported Sapphire Wind Power Plant, which will be using General Electric’s wind turbines, she said the project was approved by the OPIC board in 110 days only.
“For a government agency working in a complex project with a lot of money involved, I think it’s a pretty good record,” she said, adding US investors have shown interest in energy, education, health, telecommunications and financial services sectors of Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2013.