Pakistan paid for its first government-to-government delivery of discounted Russian crude oil in Chinese yuan, in a move seen as a significant shift for the usually US-aligned nation.
The first cargo of discounted Russian crude oil arranged under a deal struck between Islamabad and Moscow earlier this year arrived on Sunday. It is currently being offloaded at the port in the southern city of Karachi.
Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik did not disclose the commercial details of the deal, including pricing or the discount that Pakistan received, but said, the “payment [was] made in RMB”.
He said the purchase, Pakistan’s first government-to-government (G2G) deal with Russia, consisted of 100,000 tonnes, of which 45,000 tonnes had docked at Karachi port and the rest was on its way. Pakistan made the purchase back in April.
Discounted crude offers a respite as Pakistan faces an economic crisis with an acute balance of payments problem, risking a default on its external debt.
The foreign exchange reserves held by the central bank are scarcely enough to cover a month of controlled imports.
Pakistan’s purchase gives Moscow a new outlet to add to growing sales to India and China, as it redirects oil from Western markets because of the Ukraine conflict.
China’s Foreign Ministry said: “This is normal trade cooperation between Pakistan and Russia and within the scope of their sovereignty.
“As a matter of principle, we are open to the settlement of crude oil trade in RMB.”
Western Ally Pakistan
Despite being a long-standing Western ally and the arch-rival of neighbouring India, which historically is closer to Moscow, analysts say the crude deal also presents a new avenue for Pakistan at a time when its financing needs are great.
Islamabad earlier this month also outlined a process to open barter trade with Russia, Afghanistan and Iran, another sign of the South Asian economy seeking avenues to buy and sell commodities without trading in dollars, which analysts say could be a shift from West to East.
Energy imports make up the majority of Pakistan’s external payments. Islamabad imported 154,000 bpd of oil in 2022, around the same as the previous year, data from analytics firm Kpler showed.
“We’re looking to target one-third of our total oil imports at the Russian crude,” the minister said.
Crude was predominantly supplied by the world’s top exporter Saudi Arabia followed by the United Arab Emirates.
- Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara