ISLAMABAD: Pakistan may return $2 billion loan to Saudi Arabia and the cash-strapped country is looking for various options to secure more lending aimed at retaining gross official foreign exchange reserves at their current level of over $12 billion, a media report said on Saturday.
The Saudi Arabian financial assistance package, originally estimated at $6.2 billion, had helped the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to avoid looming default on international debt obligations.
The second tranche of $1 billion of Saudi loan is maturing next month and there is likelihood that the government will return the money – two years after the borrowings, The Express Tribune quoted sources in the Ministry of Finance as saying.
“It is a bilateral confidential matter,” said the Ministry of Finance in a terse response on Friday.
But a top government official said on condition of anonymity that there was a possibility that Pakistan will be returning the money next month.
After coming into power, Prime Minister Khan had twice flown to Saudi Arabia to secure the package, which enabled his government to negotiate a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Saudi Arabia had agreed to provide $6.2 billion worth of financial package to Pakistan for three years. This included $3 billion in cash assistance and $3.2 billion worth of annual oil and gas supply on deferred payments.
As per the agreement, the Saudi cash and oil facility were for one year with an option to roll over the amount at the end of the year for a period of three years, the report said.
Pakistan was paying 3.2 per cent interest on the $3-billion facility, according to the information that the Ministry of Finance shared with the National Assembly.
The Saudi oil facility has already been suspended while Pakistan has also paid back Saudi Arabia $1 billion out of the $3 billion in May this year.
The sources said the government was considering various options to repay the Saudi loan, which is booked on the balance sheet of the State Bank of Pakistan.
A senior Finance Ministry official said that Pakistan could get $2 billion from China, like it did last time when it paid back $1 billion to Saudi Arabia. The official did not explain whether the Chinese lending will be concessional or the commercial loans.
Chinese authorities have privately expressed reservations over slow progress on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) but they are likely to bail out Islamabad due to the strategic nature of the relations, the report said.
The government has also not been able to get the suspended $6 billion IMF programme restored, which is making it difficult for it to continue uninterrupted foreign inflows. The sources said if the IMF programme is not restored in near future, the World Bank inflows may start drying up.
The IMF is not bending on two conditions of introducing a mini-budget and increasing electricity tariffs, which has complicated matters for the government that is already facing criticism for high inflation.
The programme loans from the other two multilateral creditors were also critical to return $10.6 billion in maturing loans in the current fiscal year, excluding the Saudi Arabian and the UAE debt.
Pakistan’s gross official foreign currency reserves of about $12.2 billion are largely built by taking foreign loans.
Pakistan has also utilized a $3 billion Chinese trade financing facility to cushion its reserves. The $3 billion facility is also expiring in May next year, which Pakistan has decided to request China to rollover.
As of September this year, the central bank also borrowed $5.8 billion from commercial banks under the forward and currency swap arrangements, according to the SBP data.
Just six months ago, in February 2020 when Pakistan was implementing the IMF loan programme, the SBP’s borrowing under the swap and future contracts was $2.9 billion, including $1.6 billion in long-term contracts.
After excluding all short term liabilities, the central bank’s reserves are negative by about $10 billion, the report said.