Islamabad: Pakistan’s mountain ranges are home to some of the world’s most precious and sought-after gemstones. But the country’s natural wealth remained untapped due to lack of clear policy, absence of infrastructure, technical knowhow, shortage of skilled manpower and financial support.
The challenges faced by the gem traders have been aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic. “The virus has impacted 70 per cent of my business. There are no customers, no exhibitions for more than a year now” Sifat Shah, owner of Sifat Gems and Minerals, who has been in the gems business for over 18 years now, told Gulf News. Sifat says he is praying day and night for the pandemic to end and hoping that the government would support exhibitions in the major cities where he can find foreign customers for his valuable jewels.
* The country is home to the world’s second-largest salt mines and coal reserves, fifth-largest copper and gold reserves, and second-largest coal deposits.
* Pakistan also has large deposits of ruby and emerald - two of the four most valuable gemstones in the world.
* Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan, Kashmir region, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are endowed with significant reserves of variety of mineral treasures.
Sifat is one of the nearly 300,000 Pakistanis associated with the gems industry who can now directly benefit from the new measures announced by the Pakistan government to support the traders and craftsmen. Realising the country’s enormous potential, Pakistan has announced plans to enter the multi-billion dollar industry to earn up to $5 billion within five years and create new jobs.
Prime Minister Imran Khan who chaired a meeting of the gems, jewellery and minerals task force in Islamabad on Wednesday said that his government would reform the sector by introducing the latest technology in the minerals and gems sector. “For the first time in 74 years, this sector will be transformed into an export industry,” the prime minister said.
The government will set up gems and jewellery city to pool resources, offer incentives to investors ane provide one-window operations to address the customs and other issues faced by the businesses under a public-private partnership model. The country will also establish the chemical and mineral industry to reduce imports and enhance exports with the industrial value addition from raw minerals.
“We have these natural assets worth billions of dollars which we can use to pay our debts off, increase exports, cut raw material imports, boost economy but unfortunately, majority of gemstones are currently exported in raw form hindering the potential and the revenue” said Gul Asghar Khan, chairman of gems and jewellery task force.
Talking to Gulf News, Asghar Khan who is leading the reforms agenda, said that the initiatives include a regulatory framework for the promotion of the industry and facilitation for foreign investors, tax exemptions and amnesty for gem traders, one-window facilitation centre, gemstone testing laboratory, certification and skills training institution and establishing gems and jewellery city in Islamabad initially, which will be replicated in other cities.
Legal frameworks together with improvement in skills, knowledge and technologies will create better-paid jobs and help the country earn billions, Asghar Khan said. “These reforms will significantly boost the contribution of the minerals sector in Pakistan’s GDP” from the current 2 per cent to tap into the multi-billion dollar global gems and minerals industry.
Highly rewarding initiative
Speaking to Gulf News, the chairman of Pakistan Gemstone and Minerals Association (PGMA) Nasir Hussain termed the government’s initiative “highly rewarding” for the traders. “If implemented, these reforms will bring a transformational change in the sector. It will be the first of its kind support by any government in this lucrative yet underutilized and neglected sector” Hussain said.
PGMA vice-chairman Mohsin Raza says the most promising aspect is the value addition centres and services. “The gemstone found in Pakistan will be turned into a high valued finished product in Pakistan and not in a foreign country which will cut costs and maximize profit” for businessmen.
The government is also planning to introduce a gold monetization policy under which banks would offer people incentives for depositing their gold jewellery as Pakistani households have some of the biggest stock of gold. “This would be a game-changer policy as it would help document and evaluate the gold quality and quantity in the country,” offering benefit to both people and the state, and strengthening the currency, Asghar Khan told Gulf News.