On Tuesday 8 May, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Belgium, Mrs Naghmana Alamgir Hashmi, addressed a large audience of Belgian and Pakistani business people and government officials at a business conference in Brussels.
The conference was hosted by the Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Mrs Hashmi highlighted the growth in trade between Belgium and Pakistan in recent years, up 38% from 2013 and currently standing at €470 million. “It’s not random but due to important developments that has enabled the space for trade to grow”, the Ambassador emphasised.
The Pakistani economy has been held back in the last three decades due to regional insecurity, fuelled by terrorist groups active in the region. However, authorities have in the last few years clamped down on them and managed to “reduce their activities by 95%”. A complete U-turn can now be observed in terms of economic and tourism development,” Mrs Hashmi explained.
Pakistan’s economy has indeed been growing steadily in the past three years, and with a 5.8% GDP growth in 2017, the country is reaching economic growth similar to the strong levels it experienced following its independence in 1947, and which lasted up until the late 60s. In 2016, the country’s stock market was the best performing in Asia and 3rd best performing worldwide, while GDP growth is forecasted to rise above 6% in 2018.
The so called GSP+ trade agreement signed in 2013 between the EU and Pakistan has further boosted trade between the EU and Pakistan. The agreement allows for more than 76% of Pakistan’s exports, including textiles and clothing, to enter the EU duty and quota free. “I have seen a rise in Belgian business people visiting Pakistan. Only two months ago, a huge €400 million investment from Pakistan was signed in Liège in a joint venture project”, the ambassador was proud to reveal.
With the opening of the Gwanda port in 2016 in the south, which links the West of China with the Arabian sea, the authorities and international business community believe the country will experience a further economic boost. The port is part of the “One Belt One Road” infrastructure investment, initiated by China in collaboration with its neighbours, to significantly reduce transportation costs between China and the West. Speaking at the conference, Mr Shimail Daud Arain from the chamber’s board of investment, said “goods which would previously have taken 45 days from China, could now only take 10 days to serve markets in the Middle East, Africa and Europe while also enhancing the trade relations between China and Pakistan. The port is a complete game changer.”
With a large, growing middle class in a country populated by 200 million people, international investors are eagerly awaiting the general election scheduled in July in Pakistan. These will be the third general elections held in the country. Seeing the improved security, government officials are expected to continue to pursue further trade friendly policies, increase privatisations and continue to open up its market in order to attract foreign investment into the country, taking advantage of the increased stability to further economic development.
The president of the Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Zahid Latif Khan, also made a point on Pakistan’s improved economic outlook, while highlighting Bloomberg’s improved risk indicator score to Pakistan. The chamber is planning to bring more trade delegations from Belgium to Pakistan this year. Similarly, the Director of Wallonia’s Trade, Exports and Investment Agency, Isabelle Pollet, announced she will head a group of Belgian business people together with her Flemish counterpart in a visit to Lahore and Karachi in November 2018. While the country has received improved risk security assessments to conduct business in, the loudest cheer was drawn when a Belgian businessman said he had never felt unsafe in 22 years of business travels to the country.