A gauge sits on pipework on top of a storage silo as construction work continues at the liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal. (Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg)

Pakistani Envoy Says Boosting U.S. Gas Imports Key to Trade Ties

(Bloomberg) -- Pakistan Ambassador Ali Jehangir Siddiqui said importing more U.S. natural gas is key to diversifying his nation’s energy supply while expanding trade relations.

The envoy to the U.S. said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg editors and reporters in Washington that buying more liquefied natural gas from the U.S. will allow Pakistan to bolster its exports while maintaining the “fairness” and “parity” that his country and President Donald Trump’s administration seek.

“Pakistan is on its way to becoming one of the world’s largest gas importers, and the U.S. is well on its way to becoming the world’s largest LNG exporter,” Siddiqui added on Bloomberg Television. “There is a lot of growth in our trade relation that could occur."

Exxon Mobil Corp. is working with a group of Pakistan’s large businesses on a proposal to build and supply the country’s third LNG import terminal, the nation’s minister for maritime affairs said in March.

The U.S. is now a net gas exporter for the first time since the 1950s, thanks to cargoes from new terminals in Louisiana and Maryland and deliveries via pipeline to Mexico. America’s bounty of shale gas has reached buyers from Latin America to China.

Siddiqui, who was appointed ambassador in March, said a “major energy shortage” has hobbled Pakistan’s economy, including textiles that are its prime export. Over time, more energy could help Pakistan produce more exports from agriculture to software, he said, while still keeping U.S.-Pakistan trade in balance.

Trade between the U.S. and Pakistan has stalled at about $5.5 billion in goods a year over the past decade. The top U.S. exports to Pakistan are machinery and aircraft, while it imports mainly textiles and leather products.

The country’s economic imbalance, dwindling foreign reserves and widening current account and trade deficits requires “structural change,” according to the former banker and private equity executive who’s a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

While Siddiqui said peace in Afghanistan is his top policy priority, the U.S. continues to protest that Pakistan fails to crack down on terrorists operating from its territory.

Army Lieutenant General Austin Miller, Trump’s nominee to head the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, said in a statement to a Senate panel last month that Pakistan has made “many sacrifices” and “its security forces have fought bravely,” but “we have not yet seen these counter-terrorism efforts against anti-Pakistan militants translate into definitive actions against Afghan Taliban or Haqqani leaders residing in Pakistan.”

The Financial Action Task Force, a global anti-money laundering agency, recently placed Pakistan on its terrorism financing "grey list” in an effort to end Islamabad’s support of militant groups and close frequently abused financing loopholes.

Siddiqui said Pakistan is working on a second portion of a fence at its border with its war-ravaged neighbor. The fence is a clear sign of his country’s interest in ending the regional conflict and will help Pakistan and Afghanistan equally in doing so, Siddiqui said.

“Until we complete this fence, it’s unreasonable to say we aren’t doing anything,” he said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.