THE European Union, an epitome of Global Soft Power, has offered an aid package of more than USD 163 million to cash-strapped Pakistan to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and to regulate the country’s economic and security developments, the EU Mission said in a statement. Androulla Kaminara, the EU Ambassador to Pakistan, recently met Prime Minister Imran Khan to reiterate the 27-member economic bloc’s commitment to supporting Pakistan during and beyond the COVID-19 crisis, according to a statement by the EU. Ambassador Kaminara lauded the governments’ efforts, including the scale-up of the Ehsaas Programme for most vulnerable and poor. The diplomat pointed out opportunities of the partnership with EU as a major trade partner and key donor in Pakistan.
It remains a cornerstone of the European Union policy to supporting its partners – Humanitarian & Inclusion (HI) and the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) – by ensuring that vulnerable Afghan refugees continue to have access to quality healthcare amidst the ongoing outbreak. Appreciating Pakistan’s measures against the Coronavirus, EU Ambassador Androlla Kaminara said, “We appreciate Pakistan’s efforts and response plan in the fight against the COVID-19,” and added, “EU has decided to provide Rs 2bn as welfare assistance fund to Pakistan in order to deal with this extraordinary situation.”
Brussels’ foreign policy agenda vis-à-vis Pakistan remains traditionally significant primarily because of the strong link with security in Afghanistan, connections between the Afghan tribal and Europe’s ‘homegrown’ terrorists and the strong US and British insistence that the EU should help stabilise the country. Though China looms largest on the EU’s Asia policies, the relationship with Pakistan has been dominated by trade relations. The adoption by the EU Foreign Ministers of a so-called five-year engagement plan aimed at boosting civilian institutions and civil society in Pakistan as well as a commitment to starting a strategic dialogue with the country are illustrations of stronger EU interest in Pakistan. Recent statements on Pakistan by the EU Foreign Ministers underline efforts to build a strong long-term EU–Pakistan partnership and indicate full European support for democracy in the country.
Objectively speaking, the EU needs to further magnify its leverage via its soft power to facilitate the present Government’s agenda of reform and change in Pakistan. In addition, strong economic ties – the EU is Pakistan’s largest trading partner – have yet to be translated into significant political influence. But it is an encouraging development that the EU is trying to reshape its ties from a marginal political player to an instrumental player by weaving its organic bonds of relationship with Pakistan’s civilian leadership and with the powerful military and security establishment. To give a further boost, the EU and Pakistan have set up a Sub-Group on Trade to promote the development of two-way trade. The Sub-Group on Trade – set up under the auspices of the EU-Pakistan Joint Commission – is the forum for discussion on trade policy developments more broadly and also aims to tackle individual market access issues which hamper trade between the two parties.
While Pakistan’s economy holds considerable potential, high costs of doing business, complex regulation and infrastructure bottlenecks all have a detrimental effect on trade and growth. Pakistan’s trade regime and regulatory environment still remain comparatively restrictive. Textiles and clothing account for over 80% of Pakistan’s exports to the EU. While the textiles and clothing industry is the backbone of Pakistani exports, heavily relying on one product category carries risks for Pakistan. Trade diversification would play an essential role in this respect. Since 2014, the GSP+ has had given a major boost to Pakistani textile exports. The deal has positively brought in foreign revenue in the face of China-driven trade imbalances. Trade with the EU has doubled and Bloc is now Pakistan’s biggest export market. But these economic benefits come with an obligation to uphold the EU’s democratic values. Pakistan pledged to ratify and effectively implement 27 core international conventions on human and labourr rights, environmental protection and good governance. The granting of GSP+ preferences in 2014 should stimulate Pakistan’s efforts towards diversification. EU supports Pakistan’s integration into the world economy and its sustainable economic development by granting it GSP+ trade preferences. Thanks to GSP+ more than 76% of Pakistan’s exports, including textiles and clothing, enter EU duty and quota-free. This represents almost 20% of Pakistan’s exports globally.
In order to maintain GSP+ Pakistan has to keep ratification and effectively implement 27 core international conventions on human and labour rights, environmental protection and good governance. This is closely monitored by the European Commission under permanent scrutiny by the EU Member States and European Parliament, as well as civil society. In her piece to the Tribune published in March-2020, the EU diplomat highlighted the weaving bonds of trade-partnership with Pakistan, as she noted: ‘’The latest statistics on trade between Pakistan and the European Union (EU) published last week included remarkably positive figures: The Pakistani exports to the EU in 2019 amounted to nearly €7.5 billion, 8.99% higher than in 2018. This comes a few days after the European Parliament in Brussels debated the trade preferences given by the EU to a number of countries, including Pakistan. The Government of Pakistan, as well as Pakistan’s business community, has been following this debate and the preparatory steps very carefully. Why? Because Pakistan is the single largest beneficiary of the EU’s GSP+ trade regime, which waives import duties on a wide range of products’’. The facts advocate that because of Pakistan’s unique geostrategic position in South Asia, the EU can hardly avoid remaining indifferent to Pakistan.
Today, Pakistan is an instrumental partner of the EU Horizon 2020 Programme, which is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever of the European Union. The Pakistan Science Foundation has been declared as the Focal Organization for EU Research and Innovation Programme Horizon-2020 in Pakistan and, under the guidance and policy of the Ministry of Science and Technology will coordinate with EU implementation of the Horizon 2020 Programme. There is no denying that EU’s current emergency support package for Pakistan amid the Corona crisis makes a new horizon of Pakistan-EU relations.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-intternal law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.