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$15 billion Saudi bailout likely

May 23, 2013
Saudi King Abdullah. - File Photo
Saudi King Abdullah. - File Photo

ISLAMABAD, May 22: With an ‘amiable’ government in place, Saudi Arabia is expected to extend a bailout package of about $15 billion to Pakistan’s highly indebted energy sector by supplying crude and furnace oil on deferred payment to enable it to resolve the chronic circular debt issue.

A senior government official said the Saudis had been taking reasonable interest in helping out the incoming PML-N government led by Nawaz Sharif.

They had extended a similar special package to Pakistan soon after it went nuclear in 1998 and faced international economic sanctions.

Between 1998 and 2002, Pakistan received $3.5 billion (Rs190 billion at the exchange rate at that time) worth of oil from Saudi Arabia on deferred payment, a major part of which was converted into grant.

According to the official, as soon as the PML-N emerged as the majority party after the May 11 elections, the Saudi ambassador in Islamabad sought a briefing on the country’s oil requirements from the foreign ministry before calling on prime minister-designate Nawaz Sharif in Raiwind, Lahore.

He was immediately provided a position paper, the official said.

Pakistan expects about 100,000 barrels of crude oil and about 15,000 tons of furnace oil per day from Saudi Arabia on deferred payment for three years. The amount involved works out at about $12-15bn.

The facility can be utilised to reduce loadshedding in the short term and provide an opportunity in the medium term to restructure the power sector by minimising subsidies, eliminating circular debt, ensuring recovery from the public sector and reducing system losses to bring it to a self-sustainable level.

“During the package period, the PML-N government can resolve the electricity crisis and develop hydropower projects through a combination of public and private investments and bagasse-based power production by the sugar industry,” he said.

He said the arrangement for oil supplies on deferred payments could be further discussed during Mr Sharif’s first visit to Saudi Arabia soon after assuming the office of prime minister early next month.

Pakistan’s total crude oil import is about 400,000 barrels per day and 30,000 tons of furnace oil. Its total oil import bill stands at about $15bn per annum.

The official said a request for 100,000 barrels of oil and 15,000 tons per day of furnace oil had already been passed on through the Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Joint Ministerial Commission.

A meeting of the commission could be convened soon after the new government assumed charge, an official said.

The Saudi rulers had not taken any interest in the issue earlier ostensibly because of the chill in their relationship with the PPP government.

Large political delegations taken to Saudi Arabia by the PPP government were cold-shouldered, an official said, adding that warming up of diplomatic relations with Iran and the UAE and cancellation of hunting facilities for Saudi royals had also annoyed the kingdom.

The official said the breathing space provided by the likely Saudi package could also be used for renegotiating gas price with Iran for the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline to bring it down to a sustainable level.

Under the gas sales and purchase price agreement, any party may seek revision of the rates in view of the cost of alternative import options one year ahead of the first gas flows scheduled to take place in December 2014.

The official ruled out any possibility that the Saudi oil package could be used to persuade Pakistan to stay away from the Iranian gas import. He said the project had reached an advanced stage and involved international agreements and, therefore, backtracking was no option, but the development could give leverage to Pakistan to secure lower gas prices.