Business Recorder

West knows little about Pakistan's cultural, political and business outlook

10th November, 2011 -Anwar Khan

The honorary investment diplomats of Pakistan in Belgium, Karin Zoeter and Walter J Mortelmans want the West to drop its negligent attitude towards the terror-ravaged Pakistan and fearlessly explore the country of 180 million people with unending investment chances in mining, energy, education, logistics and information technology fields.

Both diplomats are Belgian: Karin Zoeter represents Pakistan as honorary consul in East-West Flanders; and Walter J Mortelmans in Antwerp.

They say the West knows very little about the country and its investment, cultural, political and business outlook.

Rather it is oblivious to shrug off its illusion and turn face to an investment-potential nation of the world.

In an exclusive interview with Business Recorder during the recent Expo Pakistan 2011 exhibition at Expo Centre, the visiting trade envoys called themselves "friends of Pakistan", saying that understanding the frontline country in war on terror needed one to take a different approach.

Karin said that people in the western countries were carrying a media-painted perception, whereas scenes of calmness in Pakistan's nearly all cities were depicting an opposite picture to their views.

"When you are here it is ok and some areas of Karachi are very good," she observed.

But, she said, she was worried about deployment of herds of police personnel to escort foreigners during their stay in any city of Pakistan, adding that such security arrangements are appreciated by the foreign visitors, but the western people were not accustomed to such security protocol in their honour.

Some visitors raised the question if such security arrangements would not on the contrary attract extra attention towards the foreign visitors.

Walter viewed Pakistan a different country, saying that its neighbours Afghanistan; it has Kashmir conflict with India; undergoing the influence of extremists, and Saudis and the US, which makes it cope with the unwanted challenges coming on all fronts from all directions.

He said that Pakistan, despite hardships, had grown its GDP to over 7 percent some few years back; resultantly, the consumers' purchasing power also was augmented.

"It was a good thing and inspiring," he said.

He said that Pakistan was suffering from energy shortage and therefore had big investment opportunities for global power generating companies.

He said he carried a campaign to encourage the Belgian investors to pour their capital in this sector.

"Returns on investment in energy sector in Pakistan are very high.

Labour is cheap and the government largely encourages foreign investors to spend money in this sector and allows them to open facilities here to provide jobs, too," Walter said.

The consul said Pakistan was a safe country for investment and business, like any other country of the world.

But the perception equally matters.

He lauded the philosophy of the Founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, saying that he established Pakistan as a Muslim country with equal opportunities to all of its citizens, irrespective of their caste, creed, religion, language and ethnic backgrounds.

Karin said the western reluctance could also largely be attributed to some experiences of difference in culture with the Magreb (West) and Arab world, and unfortunately generalised their perception to all the non-Arab countries, which could be another reason for the no interest in Pakistan business.

"Taking perception of the Arab world, they may believe that geographically more eastern situated cultures will be more difficult to understand from a western point of view," she elaborated.

Walter was of the confirmed view that if Pakistan had beautiful beaches, world standard resorts and hotels on its 1100 kilometre coastline from Iran coast in the west to India's maritime belt in the east, the global tourists would definitely spend their weekends here.

He said he was on his fourth visit to Pakistan, witnessing huge opportunities for business and investment, adding that he had met representatives of various sectors during his stays.

He said Pakistan had investment chances in railways, education, health, road infrastructure, energy, IT, mining, besides offering off-shore oil and gas exploration opportunities in its long sea belt.

He wanted to brand Pakistan as a product for its important strategic location on the global map with traffic and trade transportation routes to Afghanistan, Iran, China, India, and Central Asia and also could be to the Middle East.

The government now needs to do marketing for its brand name to lure the global investors in the fields, which still needed attention and capital to boost its economy, he added.

Walter denied that the disturbance in Pakistan was hindering landing of foreign capital, saying hat the global investors would have to take risk as they always ran after huge returns on their investments, which the country was largely offering.

He said Pakistan was offering tax holidays facility, which no investors could find the opportunity anywhere in the world.

He said Pakistanis were largely getting educated in English language, which would also give it an edge to interact globally, unlike many other countries.

He said Pakistan had surplus fresh water resources and its land varies from desert to mountains, which make it different and special in the world.

Regarding the EU ban on Pakistan's seafood, Karin said she was not aware of such trade restrictions.

However, she made it clear that the Union had its specifications about traceability from catch, over maintenance of cold chain of the products, till the product ends on the customer's plate.

"Quality control is omnipresent in any given sector, but especially in food matters.

Products accepted on the European market have to comply with a number of quality standards.

Specialised labels have been developed to guarantee traceability and a controlled production process, with checks executed by officially recognised organisations," she elaborated.

Walter said that the Pakistan-Belgium Business Forum, together with Pakistan's Board of Investments (BoI) had planned to organise a conference on Pakistan in Brussels on April 25, 2012, and that he would take an active role in this event as an independent witness.

He said that promotion and advertising campaigns in the newspapers are foreseen to make it known to people globally.

"This demonstrates that the Government, together with all its departments and existing commercial network, is working hard to attract foreign investments," he added.

(Copyright Business Recorder, 2011)

Pakistan Today

Misperceptions about terror-hit Pakistan keep European investors away.

28th October, 2011 - Ismail Dilawar

KARACHI - Whereas the global war against terrorism keeps taking a heavier socio-economic toll on Pakistan, there are some well-wishers of the crises-hit South Asian country who are all out for image-softening of the terrorism-hit Pakistan in the far located Europe, where investors and businessmen are greatly terrorised by the negative image the media was reporting about Pakistan.

Pakistan, being a frontline state and a non-Nato strategic ally of the world in the US-led war against terror, is paying a price bigger than anyone else, including the United States, and where a perceived threat of terrorist attacks is always there to keep the investors at home as well as abroad at bay.

Belgium is a trade partner of Pakistan with whom Islamabad was engaged in a negative trade of around 4.6 per cent or 12.682 million euros in the year 2010. The official statistics show that during the year under review Pakistan’s exports to Belgium rose by 15.14 per cent to Euro275.037 million, compared to a 22 per cent increase in Belgian exports to Pakistan that accounted for Euros 287.719 million. Apart from a negative trade balance, the situation is not that rosy for the violence-stricken Pakistan when it comes to the investors’ perception in the European country.

Walter J. Mortelmans and Karin Zoeter, honourary consuls of Pakistan in Belgium, say the “fear in our country to come here due to uncertain security situation” was making the Belgian investors and businessmen reluctant to come to Pakistan.

Karin attributes this image-maligning of Pakistan to the media that, she said, was reporting nothing but “wrong things” about the country. “Once you are here you really enjoy it… these reports are creating a negative perception about Pakistan and keeping the investors away,” the consul told Profit in a joint interview with Walter. According to the consuls, Pakistan was perceived as a “very very dangerous zone” in their country. “But we are here to show them that if we can come here why can’t you,” said Karin.

The consuls looked disappointed over the fact that only two of their countrymen had showed up at the recent Expo moot in Pakistan.

“The Expo and everything around it reflect the important will of the government to promote exports, putting the means on the table,” said Wolter. “Yes! Events like the Expo are a success and convey a clear message to the foreign investors that see you are not being blown up in the streets,” Karin said. The two dignitaries said the misperception in Belgian was that “there are all Taliban” in Pakistan. Walter said this was despite the fact that the business climate in Pakistan was far more conducive than some of the African countries like Zimbabwe and Congo where the foreign investors were being looted and discriminated on the basis of their color. “No such risks are there in Pakistan,” he emphasised. About the potential of Pakistan as a business-friendly country, the two dignitaries said the country was “fantastic” to start even difficult businesses like banking. Secondly, they said Pakistan also had tremendous potential for growth in the realm of deep-sea ports like Gwadar. “Gwadar gives you an easy access to China and other landlocked countries of the region,” said Walter.

But, Karin added, despite having a “friendly” business climate Pakistan was greatly lacking in structure. “There are good plans but you need to get the structure, good administration and improve the security situation that make the things stable,” she suggested. The most beautiful thing with Pakistan, according to Karin, is that: “The people of Pakistan are so willing and are fighting for rebuilding.” Walter, however, proposes the creation of a strong middle class to ameliorate the troubled economy in Pakistan. “See China where Communism has created a lot of middle class. You need a similar middle class plus small and medium enterprises to run this 165 million people’s enormous economy,” the consul said.

Karin stressed the need for education especially for the women whose contribution, she agreed, was unmatched in nation-building, historically. When asked about their take on the fruitfulness of platforms like Pak-Beligium Business Forum (PBBF), the consuls said the forum was doing well to encourage and promote business, mutual understanding and friendly relations between the business communities of the two countries. “The forum is encouraging and promoting Belgian investment in Pakistan and vice versa as well as it is promoting the development of trade, commerce and economic co-operation between the two countries,” Walter said.

Pakistan and Belgium mutually trade in chemicals and chemical sector products, metal and metallic products, plant, machinery and industrial equipment, non-specified goods, plastic and rubber and products thereof, wood pulp and derivative products, foodstuff, instruments and electronic equipment, textiles, animal fats and oils, minerals, wood, timber, wood carbon, transport equipment, skins, hides and other leather products, products of vegetable origins, livestock, footwear and related items, stoneware products etc.

Pakistan’s, major exports to Belgium are cotton fabrics, synthetic textiles, readymade garments, hosiery, fish & fish preparations, sports goods and leather clothing.

Belgium’s major exports to Pakistan include chemical industry products, metals, plant & machinery, plastic and rubber products. In fiscal year 2000-2001, Belgium was the 13th major buyer from Pakistan. Karin, however, cited textile, carpets, shoes, raw materials for the Belgian glass industry and fruits and vegetables as major commodities the two countries were trading in. When asked if they favoured a market access to Pakistani products by the European Union, Karin was quick to reply saying, “It depends, but you don’t have to dream as well, you have to fulfill the quality standards required by the European importers.”

Citing the example of Pakistan’s food exports, she said the country must develop its entire food chain which is compatible to the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS). Karin illustrated the shrimp imports by her country from Malaysia which, she said, was located far from Belgium thus adding more cost of transportation to the Belgian imports. “You have a good quality shrimp but no technology to export it… if that food chain could be built up, importing shrimp from Pakistan would be cost-effective for us,” Karin said.

The consuls, citing local official sources, said some 30 per cent of exports produces were going into waste each year for Pakistan lacking the required (food chain) infrastructure. “We think we need to have a sort of joint venture to stop this pilferage.” Belgium, a member of European Union, is classified among high-income economies. Belgium is a transit center for goods from the entire world. Its economy is almost completely oriented to exports.

(All content is copyrighted © 2011 Nawa Media.)