THE delay in the import of Russian oil at discounted rate is really unfortunate and once again clearly indicates the indifference and casualness on our part. Minister of State for Petroleum Musadiq Malik is on record saying that Pakistan will receive its first cargo of crude oil from Russia in April as the commercial deal is in final stages. However, there are now reports that Russia is frustrated to learn that Pakistan has not started the process it committed to start the first shipment of crude oil. Pakistan had committed that it would set up a new Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) company that would be responsible for the import of Russian oil to Pakistani refineries. This state-run company would also handle all matters regarding the import and payment of oil. We, however, have yet not started work on this plan and not registered the SPV which has also irritated Moscow.
At present, the country is faced with a serious balance of payment crisis with foreign exchange reserves sufficient only to cover the imports of barely one month. Worries are also compounded by an incessant delay in reviving bailout programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a facility that has been stalled since November last year. In such kind of worrisome situation, we should make maximum efforts to save our foreign exchange reserves as much as possible and import of Russian oil at discounted rates provides this opportunity. At a time when we are faced with dollar crunch, Russia in fact has also agreed to receive payment in Russian Rubble, Chinese Yuan and UAE Dirham against the supplies of crude oil. It would be a significant relief for Pakistan if the country is successful in striking an oil deal with Russia and making payment in currencies other than the dollar. Hence, it is for the government to demonstrate seriousness on the matter and apart from establishing the SPV, take the oil industry on board to finalize the crude oil pricing with Russia. It should be such which serves the interests of both the countries. The discounted crude oil will help the government to pass on the relief in petroleum prices to the consumers. Doing so will also help bring down prices of other essential commodities.