ISLAMABAD: The European Union indicated on Tuesday that it was close to implementing exceptional trade concessions designed to help Pakistan’s economy recover from the losses caused by floods.
A ‘trialogue’ involving representatives of the European Council, Commission and Parliament, taking place in Brussels, was expected to bring a positive outcome for the country leading to increase in its exports, EU foreign policy chief Baroness Catherine Ashton was quoted by the Prime Minister’s Office as having told PM Yousuf Raza Gilani.
Ms Ashton is visiting the country for launching the EU-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue which is expected to lead to operationalising a five-year Engagement Plan for strengthening their partnership.
The purpose of initiating the strategic dialogue was to transform the trade focused ties to a strategic partnership which, to quote Ms Ashton, would “bring political and security issues to forefront”.
But the major outcome of the first strategic dialogue, at least from Pakistan’s perspective, was a message of forward movement on the autonomous trade preferences (ATP) proposed by the EU Council to help Pakistani economy devastated by floods of 2010. At the end of the dialogue, the Pakistani side appeared upbeat about the prospects of getting GSP+ trade preferences in 2014.
The ATP package provides for zero tariff import of 75 products from Pakistan. The package got WTO waiver in February after remaining held up for months because of India’s objections. Back from Geneva, the special arrangement is again being debated by EU’s three institutions, where some of the member states are said to be opposing it.
“Having achieved the WTO waiver that is required we are very close to the final implementation mode,” Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said at a media briefing after the dialogue.
She said Pakistan needed “GSP plus very dearly and we are told that there is very positive movement in that also. GSP plus… will translate into direct creation of jobs and into direct creation of opportunities and this is the kind of opportunity Pakistan seeks from the world more than assistance.”
She expressed the hope that Pakistan and EU would soon start negotiating a Free Trade Agreement.
Ms Ashton said: “We want to work for the long term. We want to support your economy. We want to consolidate your democracy and to play a constructive role with you in this region.”
Responding to a question on reforms and human rights abuses, both of the issues on which EU has been very vocal all along, Ms Ashton gave a measured response clearly avoiding a statement that could have embarrassed her hosts.
“Human rights are core to development of any country… We had good discussions about it this morning and supposedly we talked about empowerment of women… we need to continue this journey in all possible ways. It is a journey that all countries are engaged with and it is very important that how we work together.”
ELECTION MONITORS: With the country headed towards general elections, Ms Ashton, at the dialogue, offered to send EU observer mission to monitor polls.
“High Representative Ashton confirmed that the European Union was willing to send an Election Observation Mission to Pakistan for the forthcoming elections,” a statement on the dialogue said.
EU had sent the largest contingent of observers to monitor 2008 elections.
PM Gilani in his meeting with Ms Ashton extended the invitation to EU to send an observer group for the general polls.