In the aftermath of the devastating floods that hit Pakistan in August, EU foreign ministers will look with renewed urgency at building closer ties with the country on 10-11 September.
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, added Pakistan to the agenda of the informal meeting in Brussels, amid growing concern that the EU should be doing more to help stability and bolster democratic forces there. Ministers will assess how to adapt the EU’s strategy on Pakistan, which already includes development aid, trade and counter-terrorism issues.
On Tuesday (31 August), Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis response, reported to MEPs on her recent visit to Pakistan and warned of the risk of a second humanitarian disaster from massive food shortages if new crops are not planted soon.
Georgieva said that while the EU and member states have already provided more than €230 million in emergency aid, more will be needed to provide seeds and farm tools, as well as to rebuild key transport routes that have been washed away. The European Commission was already working with UN agencies and the World Bank on co-ordinating a new aid strategy, she added.
EU officials are also aware that the country remains vulnerable to a deeper political crisis that could see the Western-backed government facing a renewed war with Islamic extremists in the tribal lands in the north of the country.
“If there is chaos then the situation could be destabilised. The risks are there,” Georgieva told the European Parliament’s development committee. Donors such as the Commission had to look at ways to strengthen Pakistani institutions responsible for emergency response, as well as bodies that hand out aid to the population.
Export duties and tariffs
Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU, told MEPs that Pakistan wanted the Union to provide economic assistance as well, urging the dropping of duties and tariffs on Pakistani exports, to help it recover from the disaster. “That would bring more investment into the country and create more jobs and reduce the impact of the devastation,” the ambassador said.
Georgieva pointed out that 60% of Pakistani goods exported to the EU already enjoy “various reductions”, but Commission officials confirm that options on reducing tariffs were under consideration – although any concessions would have to be introduced in a way that would not raise problems with other trading partners such as India and China. One option is to reduce tariffs on certain textile products, to a value of some €14 million per year.
While recently recognising Pakistan’s “strategic role”, most member states have focused more aid and attention on neighbouring Afghanistan as part of the US-led campaign there to rid the country of the Taliban and other insurgents. The Commission has earmarked €350m in aid for Pakistan up until 2013, which is currently being spent on development projects providing legal aid, promoting human rights, offering trade assistance, spurring renewable energy and improving access to water and sanitation.
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