HE Lars-Gunnar Wigemark Ambassador of European Union to Pakistan
Jahangir’s World Time(JWT): How is the European Union (EU) reaction to the recent developments between Pakistan and India on bilateral trade relations?
Lars-Gunnar Wigemark: It is a very positive development that Pakistan and India are seriously addressing trade issues and moving towards trade liberalization. Meeting between the Commerce ministers of the two countries by the end of September in India was very positive. Of course, we noted that this is the first time that such a bilateral meeting took place in 35 years. Indeed, this was a historic event. We also welcome signals from India that they will not oppose the World Trade Organization (WTO) waivers sought by the European Union on the trade concessions we offered to Pakistan last year. In general, this is exactly how we, the EU, started with by bringing down the trade barriers by liberalizing trade. It is also good news that Pakistan and India have agreed to issue one year multiple visas to the business community. I understand there are other measures in the pipeline. There is a huge potential for Pak-India trade. Through this process, the entire region will benefit and we will also benefit as it will improve prospectus of economic growth here in Pakistan.
JWT: Do you think bilateral trade relations are finally paving way for withdrawal of Indian objections on waiver given by EU to Pakistan?
Lars-Gunnar Wigemark: We are constantly in contact with India. We took a note of what has been said by the Indian minister for commerce. This is a very clear signal from India.
JWT: Some countries other than India like Bangladesh etc had reservations on EU concessions. Whether Bangladesh is also willing to pave way for ratification of EU concessions to Pakistan at the WTO?
Lars-Gunnar Wigemark: As I understand we will put the proposals on the table once in Geneva at the next Trade Council meeting on 7thNovember. It still remains to be seen whether there are any additional comments from any other member of the WTO. They have the sovereign rights to make comments. To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing received official so far from Bangladesh. We hope this proposal will be endorsed once for all. It has already taken a year. We took the initiative after worst flooding in Pakistan and this year has seen additional flooding too. So, the positive nod from the WTO this time will be very timely.
JWT: How this process will move forward when India officially withdraws its reservations?
Lars-Gunnar Wigemark: The proposal will be reintroduced. Well, it was never withdrawn by the EU and it remained on the table. We will officially put it again on the table in November. It will also go to the European Union Parliament for final approval. So we expect that by early next year, every thing should be in place.
JWT: So, when you put the proposal again as you have said, that will be the same one or would have certain addition or deletion?
Lars-Gunnar Wigemark: We decided to provide waiver for 75 items. The proposal stands as it was last year. However, it has to be seen as if there are further discussions at the WTO. We do hope that it can be accepted as it is.
JWT: What are the calculations that the proposal will bring how much benefit to Pakistan?
Lars-Gunnar Wigemark: The original proposal last year was that these concessions will affaect 27 per cent of Pakistan’s export to the European Union worth of around 900 million Euros. That also means that more than a quarter of Pakistan’s exports to the European Union will have easy access. It was a temporary measure for two years with possible extension for up to three years.
JWT: Obviously, the Pak-EU Summit yielded to such a possibility. Whether the Pak-EU Summit is a permanent phenomenon or just occasional?
Lars-Gunnar Wigemark: For the time being, Pak-EU Summit mechanism is occasional or on an ad-hoc base. It is not the case that we do not want to have summits with Pakistan. On the contrary, we had two summits. But at the same time, just holding summits will not add the value as we need to have substance in our relations. We have a number of initiatives. We also have a decision to launch a strategic dialogue with Pakistan. We have started negotiating an engagement plan f or the next five years between Pakistan and the EU. We had first round of negotiations in Brussels in September between the foreign ministry of Pakistan and external service of the EU. We are now discussing internally also with our member states the outcome of the first round of negotiations. I hope that we can have second round of negotiations soon and that we will proceed as quickly as possible. I want to underline that if both the sides take it very seriously to negotiate every coma, every word in the engagement plan , it may take a quite long before we can launch a strategic dialogue. We are interested in upgrading the relations also in order to have further summits. We do not wish to focus only on trade and economic relations and aid – as it has been in the past – but also develop a proper dialogue on political, foreign policy and security issues.
JWT: So what are the major areas for cooperation being discussed in the next five year engagement plan?
Lars-Gunnar Wigemark: That exactly is yet to be seen in our dialogue. But what is important is that we establish a proper structure where we have a regular dialogue on matters not only ranging from trade and economy but also on political issues. The EU would like to have a full-fledged relationship with Pakistan and not just focusing on market access. We want to promote more diversified trade as the trade is too much focused on the textile sector. We have a 15 million Euros programme to diversify Pakistan’s trade to the EU. That means we are spending European tax payers’ money to promote diversified exports from Pakistan. We will now focus on other export items like leather and gems etc. The current program also includes promotion of fisheries sector exports.
JWT: How do you view the situation in Afghanistan? Do you share the US skepticism about Pakistan’s role?
Lars-Gunnar Wigemark: Pakistan will have to be a part of the settlement in Afghanistan. There is no military solution to this conflict. Pakistan can protect its sovereignty as we believe it is a strong and stable country. We welcome regional cooperation wherein Pakistan is a partner in projects like Afghan Transit Trade agreement. There are various agreements in the energy sector wherein different pipelines are going to or passing through Pakistan. We also welcome the New Silk Route proposal for regional cooperation. We are willing to contribute from ourselves for further promotion of regional cooperation. Cooperation is the only way forward for this region.
JWT: You have talked about engagement even on political issues. Senate elections are rapidly approaching in Pakistan. How is your assessment?
Lars-Gunnar Wigemark: The Senate election will give an indication nevertheless of the political temperature in the country. They are important precursor to the national and the federal elections due in early 2013. We have every interest that you have free and fair elections here. It is important that every one respects the rules of the game. A level playing field for all the political parties is also an important mile stone in Pakistan’s transition to a full-fledged democracy.
JWT: How do you assess the current political scenario prevailing in Pakistan?
Lars-Gunnar Wigemark: it is quite interesting to observe all this. We are not trying to meddle in the internal affairs of Pakistan. It is important for every one here to have a say and all opinions here are respected. It is important that rule of game of democracy are respected and not manipulated by the one side. I think Pakistan is currently facing serious challenges in terms of economic and security. I hope political parties and the political leaders will take full responsibility and act in responsible manner. We somet imes hear there was more stability in the country under the dictatorship and military rule. But I think in terms of trying to compare between a military rule and a civilian government, the civil government is always to be preferred. That has certainly been our experience in the European Union. And that is why we are always supportive of the democracy and civilian government in Pakistan. Definitely, we do not want to see a return of military rule in Pakistan.