NEW YORK, June 3 (APP): Speakers at an event marking the opening of a major conference aimed at building linkages between U.S. and Pakistani businesses expressed the hope Thursday evening that their interaction here would open up more opportunities to further strengthen trade and investment relations between the two countries.

At a networking session for the 4th U.S. Business Opportunities Conference, the first to be held in the United States,they applauded the Pakistan government’s efforts to restore economic stability, saying its reforms had improved the attractiveness of the country to investors.

The previous conferences took place in London, Dubai and Islamabad.

About 300 industry representatives, investors, and government leaders from the two countries as well as emerging professionals and entrepreneurs were present at the event held at CitiCorp Headquarters in New York.

Among those who spoke at the networking session were: Mehmood Khan, chairman of the U.S.-Pakistan Business Council (USPBC), Bob Dechant, Chief Executive Officer, IBX/Global, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Jalil Abbas Jilani, and Fred Hochberg, Chairman the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

Officials said that 2016 conference will highlight business opportunities for U.S. and Pakistani businesses, with particular focus on fashion apparel, health care, information communication technology, and agriculture.

Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan, who is leading the Pakistan delegation, will address the main session of the conference on its second day on Friday, The U.S. delegation is led by Bruce Andrews, Deputy Secretary of Commerce, and besides EXIM bank’s chairman, includes Ambassador Richard Olson, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; Larry Sampler, USAID Assistant to the Administrator for Afghanistan and Pakistan; and Ziad Haider, U.S. Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs. Vice Chairman of General Electric John Rice will also deliver a keynote speech.

“Pakistan today is brimming with the true promise of a mega country,” the Pakistani ambassador told the gathering.

“It is a promise fueled by expectation of sustaining high growth rates that would translate into enhance purchasing power for an expanding middle class,” Ambassador Jilani said. “It is the promise of an emerging market that has been ranked among the top,” he said, pointing to improving economic indicators that have been recognized by international rating agencies.

Jilani said that that promise had also been recognized at the highest level by International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

“Most significantly, this promise has been acknowledged and embodied in the 46 billion dollar CPEC — underwritten by China being one of the most salient business savvy states,” he said. ” The promise of Pakistan — an economy destined to be among the top 20 in terms of the forecast by Goldman Sachs.”

Hochberg, Chairman the Export-Import Bank, who visited Pakistan in April, said he was impressed by the economic turnaround in the country, saying a number of projects were under consideration for financing purposes.

He said that strengthening trade and commercial links was the best way to ease diplomatic and political tensions between the two countries.

In a welcome address, Mehmood Khan, chairman of the U.S.-Pakistan Business Council, said that members of his group were “bullish about business prospects in Pakistan.
He said that the overwhelming response to this year’s conference shows that companies in both countries were eyeing opportunities to grow US-Pakistan trade and investment.

“The business community strongly supports a reinvigorated U.S-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue and applauds the shared commitment of both governments to expand and deepen bilateral economic, trade, and investment cooperation,” Mehmood Khan added.

Speakers at the event praised the April 2016 launch of the Pakistan Private Investment Initiative (PPII), a partnership between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and three private equity fund managers to provide capital to small and medium sized businesses in Pakistan.

Under PPII, USAID has partnered with the Abraaj Group, Indus Basin Holdings, and JS Private Equity Management to develop three privately-managed investment funds that are seeded with U.S. government money and matched at least one-to-one with privately raised capital.

In the coming years, the PPII funds will collectively invest over $150 million in capital to help Pakistani businesses grow and create jobs.

All three have achieved first financial close and are now making investments in Pakistan.