KARACHI: British Deputy High Commissioner Elin Burns, while highlighting the British government’s commitment, said that when UK leaves European Union (EU), Pakistan’s GSP Plus arrangements will be maintained by UK, if not improved.
“We will unilaterally agree to put those GSP Plus arrangements in place which is going to be a very positive step in terms of strengthening UK-Pakistan trade ties and it shows UK’s strong commitment and desire to expand trade with Pakistan”, she added during her visit to Karachi Chamber on Tuesday while referring to UK’s Senior Trade Minister’s recent visit to Pakistan who also announced UK’s commitment to replicate GSP Plus System arrangements with Pakistan.
Chairman Businessmen Group & Former President KCCI Siraj Kassam Teli, Vice Chairman BMG Zubair Motiwala, President KCCI Muffasar Atta Malik, Senior Vice President KCCI Abdul Basit Abdul Razzak, Vice President KCCI Rehan Hanif, Chairman Diplomatic Missions & Embassies Liaison Sub-Committee Sohail Amin, Former Presidents KCCI Majyd Aziz & Abdullah Zaki and KCCI Managing Committee members were present at the meeting.
Elin Burns stated that British government was keen to further strengthen trade and investment cooperation with Pakistan. “We have increased our trade teams with presence in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore, which is the sign of the importance that we give to strengthening trade relations with Pakistan”, she added.
She said that UK government has also appointed Rehman Chishti, a Pakistani descent, as Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy for Pakistan who is very enthusiastic to strengthen trade relations between the two countries whereas the British government has also doubled Export Financing from 200 million pounds to 400 million pounds, which is a significant figure, for British companies who are interested in doing business in Pakistan.
“We are doing a lot on our side to encourage UK firms to explore good opportunities in Pakistan and increase their businesses in Pakistan”, she added.
Elin Burns was fairly optimistic that more trade will take place between Pakistan and UK in next months and years.
Referring to concerns expressed over issuance of visas, she said that all these concerns were ‘misconceptions’. “Visa applications for Pakistanis are not decided in India as Visa Center continues to operate from Abu Dhabi”, she said.
Reacting to concerns expressed over Indian nationals deciding visa applications submitted by Pakistanis, she assured that anyone, including Pakistanis and Indian nationals, working at the Visa Center in Abu Dhabi work under British Values, British Standards and British Rules so there is absolutely no bias in the entire visa applications process.
In this regard, she said that Head of Visa Operations in Abu Dhabi will be invited to Karachi to explain the entire visa issuance process, how it all runs, what common mistakes are seen in the applications and other similar issues in order to clarify numerous misconceptions about the visa issuance process, which is however, very ‘strict and rigid’.
“We don’t want the legitimate businessmen and legitimate students being unable to travel to UK”, she added.
Speaking on the occasion, Chairman BMG & Former President KCCI Siraj Kassam Teli said that Karachiites and Pakistanis have very strong linkages with United Kingdom as lots of Pakistani origin families have been living in UK and businesspeople have also been regularly visiting the country whereas the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also visited Karachi recently, which indicates the strong ties between the two countries.
He noted that strong ties are also evident from the fact that even after so many year since partition, many Pakistani Ministries and Departments continue to follow the same patterns introduced during the British Rule.
He said, “More than 100 UK companies have been operating in Pakistan and many of them have also undertaken joint ventures but we are not where should have been. We should have been too far from where we stand today in terms of business and trade.”
He informed the British Deputy High Commissioner that the Karachi Chamber remains closely in touch with all the Consul General and Deputy High Commissioners in Karachi by maintaining strong liaison with all of them in order to promote trade, facilitate visa issuance and deal with any other relevant issue. “They have all been very helpful to Karachi Chamber, especially at times when it was very hard for us to convince them due to poor law and order situation before 2013”, he added.
He said that the Karachi Chamber has always actively raised voice and fought with governments from time to time in order to restore peace in Karachi. “We also tried to change and rebuild the image of Karachi by initiating My Karachi – Oasis of Harmony Exhibition initiated in 2004, which was even attended by delegates from UK, USA and other countries despite travel advisories being issued by their respective countries”, he added.
Siraj Teli was of the opinion that law and order situation has substantially improved and it was a well-known fact that all the Consul Generals and Deputy High Commissioners nowadays roam around the city without any fear or problem but sometimes their countries issue travel advisories by seeing what is being broadcasted in TV channels which should not happen, as the ground reality is much better to what is being aired on TV Channels.
“The law and order situation nowadays is 70 to 80 percent better as compared to what it was in the past. Although street crimes are taking place but we are much better as compared to many other cities around the world including London, Tokyo, New York and Paris. Karachi is spread on an area of 3500 sq. kilometers and holds a population of over 20 million people. We are also bigger than over 80 countries around the world. With such a huge size and population, zero crime rate simply cannot be expected”, he added.
Expressing deep concerns over rising number of visa rejections, Siraj Teli said that the business and industrial community has a lot of apprehensions as they have been hearing about British visas being processed in India. Keeping in view the type of relations we have with India, we fear that if UK Border Agency was really operating from India and the staff comprises of Indian, we may face suffer bias.
Vice Chairman BMG & Former President KCCI Zubair Motiwala said that Pakistan and United Kingdom have been enjoying deep rooted and firm relations since past 70 years and have immense trade potential but this potential was not depicting in the existing trade volume which was almost negligible. “We have not been able to realize even 50 percent of the trade potential between the two countries. Hence, we need to work together to turn the potential into reality and we are ready to fully cooperate with you in this regard.”
He stressed that Pakistan and United Kingdom must have right kind of approach, more exchanges of trade delegations, Confidence Building Measures and must also deal with the trust deficit in order to attain the trade volume of 5 billion dollars.
Earlier, President KCCI Muffasar Atta Malik, in his welcome remarks, said that with improved law and order situation and upon completion of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Gwadar Port, this region is likely to attract substantial amount of foreign investment from different parts of the world and UK investors can also benefit from the situation by investing or undertaking joint ventures in Pakistan, particularly in Karachi city.
Commenting on Pakistan-UK trade and economic ties, he said that bilateral trade linkages between Pakistan and the United Kingdom are deep rooted and have provided space to both of the countries to collaborate in different sectors of the economy. He informed that during FY17, exports volume of Pakistan to UK stood at $1.619 billion while Pakistan’s import from UK were recorded at $795 million.
Referring to UK’s exit from EU, Muffasar Malik said that as UK would exit the bloc, EU’s share would be reduced to 24 percent from 31 percent. However, the impact of Brexit on Pakistan’s trade can be neutralized if government works on securing a similar tariff concession deal with UK enabling it to secure its market access after Brexit.
He underscored that the Karachi Chamber wants to promote business, mutual understanding and friendly relations between Pakistan and UK. “We also want to promote UK’s investment in Pakistan and do everything for the development of Pakistan-UK business cooperation”, he added.
Article first appeared in The Daily Times.