Pakistan and the European Union (EU) have expressed their desire to enhance cooperation in trade and commerce.
At a ceremony held at Aiwan-i-Sadr late on Wednesday to celebrate 50 years of the diplomatic relations between Pakistan and the EU, or formerly European Economic Community, President Asif Zardari and the EU ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark made a fervent call for closer economic and business ties between Pakistan and the EU.
“The EU being a major trading block and the world’s single largest market is Pakistan’s largest trading partner; and special trade concessions for Pakistan will come into force,” said Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, Head of Delegation of 17-EU member states in Pakistan.
The ambassador commended President Zardari on his recent visit to India. “The EU is encouraged by the significant steps taken by Pakistan over the past year towards liberalising trade with India.”
The EU’s 27-member states are engaged in development programmes with a total a value of 750 million euro. Over the last four years the EU’s humanitarian agency, ECHO, provided over 370 million euro in humanitarian aid to Pakistan, making it the number one international humanitarian actor in Pakistan.
Over the next three to four years the EU would like to invest 300 million euro to empower local communities in areas threatened by militancy.
In January, the EU Foreign Affairs Council, chaired by EU High Representative Baroness Catherine Ashton, approved a five-year engagement plan between the EU and Pakistan. The “ambitious and wide-ranging project” was approved by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in March.
“The EU stands by Pakistan in its transition towards democracy. We provided independent observers for the general elections in 2002 and in 2008 and are ready to do so again if asked by your government and all major political parties,” Wigemnark said.
EU is a key partner in peace and development of Pakistan, President Zardari said, adding that it is an important ally in the war against terrorism, the biggest trading partner, and a major source of direct investment. “We greatly value the EU and its member states for their support and assistance in difficult times,” the president said.
During the last five decades, the EU, despite economic difficulties, has emerged as an important global player, Zardari said, adding that Pakistan too has faced many challenges. “Pakistan is again on the frontline in the campaign against terrorism, which is exacting massive human and economic costs, compounded by the economic difficulties and natural calamities, energy crisis and the climate changes.”
But, he continued, positive developments are also taking place simultaneously. He said that the EU can help Pakistan overcome its economic difficulties through better market access. He praised the role of the EU in extending trade concession in the aftermath of the floods. “We are now ready to engage with the EU on GSP-plus (generalised system of preferences) and a Free Trade Agreement,” Zardari said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2012.