INTERVIEW - Pakistan offers farmland to foreign investors

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Reuters | April 20, 2009

By Amena Bakr

DUBAI (Reuters) - Pakistan is offering one million acres of farmland, protected by a special security force, for lease or sale to countries seeking to secure their food supplies, an official from the ministry of finance said on Monday.

Gulf Arab countries, mainly reliant on food imports, have been seeking farmland in developing nations to secure supplies and have expressed interest in Pakistan's offer.

Donors including the United States, Japan, Europe, Saudi Ararbia and Iran pledged more than $5 billion in aid over two years at a conference in Japan this month to help Pakistan as it battles militants and repair its economy.

"We are offering one million acres of land across Pakistan for investors who want to buy or lease the land for a long period of time," said Waqar Ahmed Khan, the Federal Minister of Investment in Pakistan.

Pakistan's government is now in talks with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and other Arab states, said Khan.

"And very soon we will be signing the deals," he added.

The ministry, which was formed in October to promote foreign investment in Pakistan, will also provide investors with a legislative cover to protect them from changes in the government, Khan said in an interview to Reuters and a local newspaper.

"We want to give Pakistan a corporate style and corporate look and with that we also want to protect investors from any changes that happen politically, which never used to happen before," he said, adding parliament would approve this within three months.

"For the first time I can say that whole government including the upper and the lower house and the opposition are on board for this project and are supporting the idea of improving Pakistan's economic situation."

Khan said the ministry will also make sure that all machinery being brought in will be exempted from duty charges.

It will also hire a new security force of 100,000 men to be split among the country's five provinces to help stabilise the investment environment, said Khan.

"This will cost us about $2 billion to pay the salaries and train these people who will be from local towns and provinces," said Khan. "We are now seeking funds from donor associations to help us with this amount."

Asked how will farmers' rights will be preserved -- a concern raised this year by the United Nations Human Rights Council -- Khan said all land that will be for sale or leased is currently unused. He said provincial farmers will learn new techniques to help increase their produce.

"It's really a win-win situation," said Khan.
Original source: Reuters
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