KARACHI: The local private sector can make inroads into the French market with greater ease because of access to bank loans after credit insurance agency Coface resumed its coverage of Pakistan last year, Head of the Economic Department at the Embassy of France in Pakistan Eric Noitakis said on Tuesday.

“For private sector, we can provide funds of up to 50 million euros ($56.9m), which is quite substantial,” Mr Noitakis said.

“Foundation for more prosperous and conducive economic relationship between the two countries has been laid,” Mr Noitakis said later in the evening while speaking at the second annual general meeting of Pakistan-France Business Alliance (PFBA).

PFBA Patron-in-Chief and Ambassador of France to Pakistan Martine Dorance was the chief guest on the occasion.

Thibaut Fabre, director South Asia of Business France, and Dominique Frachon, in-charge South Asia of Invest in France agency, participated as special guests.

He added that bilateral trade has been above $1 billion mark for five years now, though France exports have waned. “Our exports to Pakistan have never crossed the $500m threshold,” he said.

Ms Dorance said France wanted closer commercial relations with Pakistan and saw its market with interest. “Pakistan is a place where serious business can be done. There are lot of opportunities for joint ventures, too,” she added.

PFBA Chairman and CEO Jamil Hamdani said foreign investment was the key to developing major economic sectors. “If the Government of Pakistan takes adequate measures to facilitate foreign investment, foreign investors, including the large French multinationals in energy, agro-food, transport and water and sanitation sectors, will have to revise their outlook of Pakistan,” he suggested.

However, he added, the economic potential of the country has been under-exploited by local investors and under-estimated by foreign investors. “I hope that the new automotive policy will encourage European automobile manufacturers to enter the field.”

French companies in Pakistan employ about 5,500 people, he said. Some of the major firms include Total, Lafarge, L’Oréal and Sanofi.

He urged Mr Fabre of Business France to reconsider the “unfortunate decision” (taken in 2013) to wind up the official French commercial representation in Karachi.

Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2016

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