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Pakistan has intensified lobbying in European countries against anti-Pakistan elements to neutralise influence of India regarding the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), rice brand and GSP scheme.
“Our ambassadors in EU countries and Brussels have enhanced their engagements with the host governments,” Pakistan Ambassador to Italy Jauhar Saleem told The Express Tribune while responding to a question regarding the EU parliament’s resolution against Pakistan.
In April this year, the European Parliament had adopted a resolution calling for a review of the GSP+ status granted to Pakistan in view of an increase in the use of blasphemy accusations in the country as well as rising number of online and offline attacks on journalists and civil society organisations.
He said that EU Parliament’s resolution is not of a binding nature for the EU Commission.
“Our progress on compliance of 27 UN Conventions is very encouraging and the commission has recognised that in its review reports,” he said, adding that the ongoing review of European Union GSP plus scheme is taking place routinely and we have not been conveyed anything unusual from the commission.
He further shared that he also had meetings with chair of the Women Affairs Committee of the parliament and several members of human rights and foreign affairs committees besides the relevant government and private sector functionaries who can play a role to support Pakistan’s case and the response has been quite positive.
Responding to a question regarding engaging Italy for Pakistan’s exit from FATF grey list, he said that Italy has a very prominent position in FATF and the International Co-operation Review Group (ICRG) within FATF is headed by Italy.
“We are regularly engaging with our Italian friends, including the co-chair of the ICRG to highlight the progress on the action plan agreed with FATF,” he said, adding that they recognise and appreciate the progress achieved by us.
Regarding conflict between Pakistan and India over basmati rice, Saleem said that Pakistan opposed Indian application of GI tag in the European Union. Besides Pakistan, many EU member countries are also opposing Indian claim because they believe it is a false claim.
“Currently we are at consultation stage with India in Brussels that is expected to conclude on September 5, 2021,” he said.
In case these consultations fail, the commission will formulate a committee comprising EU member countries representatives and experts that will decide the case. The decision of the committee can be challenged at the European Court of Justice.
“In Italy, we approached the Italian Rice Industry Association, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation as well as the Ministry of Agriculture on the issue. They are not supporting Indian stance on basmati.”
He added, “Despite Indian attempt to undermine our rice exports we remain the largest player in terms of rice export to Italy and the EU. Pakistan’s share of imported rice in the Italian market is an impressive 37% whereas India supplied only 12% this year.”
He further said that the Pakistan Embassy in Rome and the Consulate General in Milan did not close temporarily even in the darkest days of the pandemic in Italy.
“Many of our competitors suffered greatly, with their exports to Italy shrinking by 20% in some cases. Despite these difficult conditions, Pakistan was the least affected and recovered very well with an impressive growth of 9.1% in FY2020-21,” he said.
Pakistan’s exports to Italy reached an all-time high of $786 million. Value added sectors were the main drivers of this growth, producing a trade surplus of $300 million. This is 49% higher than the previous year. In the most recent month ie July 2021, exports have increased by 30%, the official added.
Similarly, workers’ remittances from Italy reached $601 million in FY21, which marks a 66% increase over the last year and is an all-time high figure, making Italy Pakistan’s biggest source of remittances in the EU and the seventh largest in the world.
“We expect the growth streak to continue in FY22.”
He was of the view that this had become possible through adapting to new conditions speedily, innovation and improvisation. “We employed digital diplomacy and virtual platforms such as zoom to keep contact with the businesses in Italy, industrial associations, chambers of commerce and exporters from Pakistan. We held business meetings, seminars, exhibitions, business forums, and delegation exchange through digital platforms, which was a tremendous success.”
Remittances through formal channels
egarding remittances through formal channels, he said in the wake of Brexit, Italy is home to the largest Pakistani diaspora in the European Union (EU).
The mission is running a comprehensive campaign to promote awareness about formal channels of remittances, Roshan Digital Account (RDA) and investment opportunities through RDA.
“The other prong of our strategy is to increase the number of documented Pakistani workers in Italy. We helped thousands of undocumented Pakistanis to regularise their stay in Italy in the last one year.”
Pakistan and Italy have agreed in principle to negotiate a labour agreement that will give Pakistan comprehensive access to Italian labour market. Pakistan has also been included in the Italian Seasonal Work Visa for 2022, which would offer many opportunities for our workers in agriculture and services sector to work in Italy.
Potential areas of investment for Italian firms
The ambassador shared that Italian firms were keen to invest in the fields of energy, food processing, leather, textile, dairy & livestock, construction and furnishing. The embassy is promoting JV mode to increase Italian investment interest in Pakistan that will help in the flow of technology and skills transfer to our businesses, he said, adding that once travel restrictions ease there will be multiple visits by Italian investors to Pakistan as has been agreed during meetings with several CEOs of prominent Italian firms.
Saleem also shared that they were collaborating with the Italian government to set up technology training centres in Pakistan. In this regard, he informed that a textile training sector has already been established in Faisalabad, while a footwear training centre has been set up in Lahore. Meanwhile, a marble technology training centre was in the final stage of completion in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.