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ISLAMABAD: An influential group of multinational companies on Wednesday urged the government to take some bold measures for restoring business confidence, attract private investment and put the economy on a solid growth trajectory in line with the country’s great potential.

Speaking at a news conference after holding separate meetings with the government’s economic team led by Finance Minister Asad Umar and diplomats from 35 countries, the managing committee of the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI) also shared findings of its Business Confidence Survey.

OICCI President Irfan Wahab said it was the collective view of 190 international investors – 50 of them among the global Fortune 500 companies — that the government should introduce measures without further waste of time to boost business confidence through policy announcements on matters relating to taxation, debt management, reforms in the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), and measures to boost foreign direct investment.

More importantly, the government should focus on improving the country’s perception abroad and improve ‘Ease of Doing Business’, he said.

He said that most of the foreign investors noted with concern that issues like intellectual property rights (IPR) were very low on the priority of not only the government but also the media even though it was a major concern for international investors.

He said Pakistan was currently attracting very low foreign direct investment (FDI) which was less than one per cent of its GDP against the norm of 3pc in regional countries.

Mr Wahab said the OICCI was positive about future substantial growth in the FDI — in addition to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor investment — due to competitive advantage to Pakistan supported by a more focused approach by the government towards growth oriented economic and trade policies.

“The need to continue aggressive documentation of the economy to broaden the tax base will significantly strengthen the revenue base of the country,” he said adding there were immense opportunities to transform Pakistan into ‘Digital Pakistan’ with the objectives to increase ease of doing business, enhance transparency, improve government to government (G2G) and government to citizen (G2C) services.

This would result in encouraging longer term investment into the services sector and export oriented industries. He said the OICCI would be ready to support the government in managing many of the challenges through active engagement and support on many fronts including standing up for Pakistan at international and national forums to share the success stories and experience of its members.

Sharing the latest survey findings by the group, Mr Wahab said that despite a challenging and instable environment, OICCI members re-invested a record $2.7 billion in expanding their business footprint in Pakistan during 2017. This is at par with the total new FDI received in the country during 2017-18.

He said the OICCI members’ investment in 2017 was 20pc higher than the previous year and was mainly in the energy, chemicals and telecom sectors. The survey completed in April and was participated by 130 out of a total 190 members and reflected OICCI members total assets at $90bn with a 2017 sales revenue of over $36bn. He said the business perception had gone done in the April survey compared with November 2017 survey and was understandable on account of pre-election political turmoil.

Once again OICCI members emerged as the largest tax contributors in the country with a total contribution in excess of Rs1000bn during 2017. He said 2017 members survey re-affirmed the confidence of existing foreign investors, who believed in the high economic and investment potential of Pakistan.

The OICCI Security Survey conducted in June 2018 exclusively among the foreign investors has also confirmed significant improvement in the security environment in Pakistan supported by substantial increase in the number of overseas visitors since 2014 including staff from overseas headquarters of leading MNCs.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2018