BRUSSELS: EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton heads to Pakistan on Monday to launch a wide-ranging “strategic dialogue” covering foreign and security issues, as well as development and trade.
Ashton, who flies to Islamabad after an EU-Russia summit in Saint Petersburg, will Tuesday join Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to launch the talks aimed at giving new impetus to ties between Pakistan and the 27-nation bloc.
“My visit to Pakistan is an expression of the EU’s support for the consolidation of democracy in the country,” she said in a statement ahead of the three-day trip.
The dialogue aims to spell out how to work toward an ambitious five-year plan agreed in January that would culminate in a Free Trade Agreement and include anti-terrorist measures and heightened development aid.
Ashton will also meet Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, military operations chief Lieutenant General Waheed Arshad, parliamentary opposition leaders and, in a Wednesday visit to Lahore, Punjab province Governor Sardar Muhammad Latif Khan Khosa.
“We want to deepen our collaboration in many areas, including judicial reform, strengthening the democratic institutions, but also work jointly on promoting regional stability and tackling extremism and terrorism,” she said.
Ashton also said the EU wanted “to capitalise on the momentum in our relationship created by the special trade measures we adopted following the 2010 floods, and the significant development and humanitarian assistance we have provided to the country.”
In a ground-breaking move in February, the World Trade Organization approved a waiver allowing 75 Pakistani products duty-free access to European Union markets for two years to help textile exports after devastating floods in 2010.
The EU is Pakistan’s largest trading partner, receiving almost 30% of its exports – worth almost 3 billion euros.
Pakistan’s trade with the EU consists mainly of textiles, which account for more than 70% of its exports to European countries.
Brussels last month announced a further 20 million euros in aid to victims of Pakistan’s 2011 monsoon floods, as well as people displaced by conflict, bringing funding this year to 55 million euros.