KARACHI: The first private sector airport of Pakistan is not only helping traditional export industries of Sialkot but has also created an environment in which people are taking interest in new businesses like flower exports and meat processing industries that need air route for shipments abroad.
“Now that we have an international airport in the city, people are planning to set up new industries and start exporting flowers and meat not only from Sialkot but also from nearby towns and cities,” Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) President Naeem Anwar Qureshi said in an interview to The Express Tribune.
“All these new developments have become possible just because of the quick air transport facilities now available owing to the new airport,” he said.
At a time when exports of the country have become stagnant, the Sialkot exporters are weighing options to invest in new industries that require less electricity and give more returns.
Apart from these tangible advantages, the Sialkot airport is also the best marketing tool for exporters of the city in attracting foreign buyers.
“It was a long-standing demand of the business community to have an airport, because foreigners wanted to travel to the city,” Qureshi said. “But when their demand was not met for several years, they decided to build the airport themselves.”
The business community felt the need for an airport because the nearest international airport was a couple of hours away in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab.
When people came to know that Sialkot had built an airport, businessmen, especially foreign buyers, were attracted to this export-based city. And, this attraction was definitely helping the city to increase exports, he said.
Another problem for the Sialkot exporters was the growing security issues in Pakistan because of which foreign buyers were hesitant to come to the city. Now that the city has an international airport, the concerns of foreign buyers have fairly subsided, if not eroded completely.
The SCCI president said the chamber hosted seven ambassadors in the last three months “that endorses our claim that the city is far safer than other parts of the country.” The Japanese ambassador recently awarded a certificate to the SCCI “so that we could assure foreign buyers that Sialkot is a safe city for travelling.”
Despite all these positives, Qureshi agreed that a lot needed to be done to overcome security challenges in the country, which is the single biggest obstacle in the way of trade and commerce.
27 flights a week
The Sialkot International Airport was completed at a total cost of Rs2.88 billion and domestic and international flights started from November 30, 2007. At present, the airport caters to 27 weekly flights including three cargo flights.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Airport’s Administration Officer Tariq Baig said of the 27 weekly flights, 24 were international that went to Europe and the Middle East while only three were domestic flights.
Industrialists say the airport is helpful in bringing an end to long delays, damage to goods or packing due to multiple handling, pilferage, security concerns and other losses. Foreign business executives and other air travellers now easily come to Sialkot and save themselves long road journeys from distant airports like Islamabad and Lahore.
The airport is strategically located to boost commercial activities and exports of the internationally famous export triangle of Sialkot, Gujrat and Gujranwala which produces and exports sports goods, gloves, surgical instruments, sportswear, cutlery, ceramics and leather garments.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2012.
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