By Amna Malik
Pakistan and the European Union’s relations established in 1962. The first cooperation which was initiated between the EU and Pakistan was in 1976. It was followed by a formal Commercial Cooperation Agreement in 1986. However, the 2004 Cooperation Agreement paved the way for closer relations. Since the start of this cooperation, the Commission has committed more than €500 million to various projects and programs in Pakistan. Currently, there are 48 bilateral and multilateral treaties between the EU and Pakistan, of which 47 have entered into force. There are also over 86 projects currently in progress, covering a wide range of sectors. The relationship is moving from what has traditionally been a more trade oriented relationship to a political and strategic one. Pakistan-EU bilateral trade relations are governed by the Cooperation Agreement from 2004 .Enhancing bilateral trade and investment is also part of the EU-Pakistan 5-year Engagement Plan from 2012. Pakistan is a major beneficiary of the trading opportunities offered by the EU Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP). From 1 January 2014 Pakistan benefits from generous tariff preferences under the GSP+ arrangement aiming to support sustainable development and good governance. In order to maintain GSP+ Pakistan has to keep ratification and effectively implement 27 core international conventions on human and labour right, environmental protection and good governance. Under this scheme Pakistan’s exports to the EU will get zero percent tariff on exports to EU countries. It is generally believed that Pakistan will immensely benefit from this status. To maintain GSP plus status, Pakistan has to ratify and effectively implement 27 core international conventions on human and labour rights, environmental protection and good governance.The focus of EU activities in Pakistan in the past had remained on poverty reduction through rural development and natural resource management, education and human resource development particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KPK) and Balochistan. Furthermore, EU had provided humanitarian assistance to flood victims in 2010, 2011 and 2012. EU is Pakistan’s most important and largest trading partner accounting for 21.2% of Pakistan’s total exports and 16% of its total imports. Pakistan’s exports to the EU are dominated by textiles and clothing as well as leather products while Pakistan’s imports from the EU mainly comprise mechanical and electrical machinery as well as chemical and pharmaceutical products. The EU and Pakistan have set up a sub-group on trade under the auspices of the EU-Pakistan Joint Commission to promote the development of two way trade through discussions on the trade policy development and dealing with individual market access issues. The volume of trade between Pakistan and EU has reached US$10 billion. Pakistan has also developed strategic relationship with major EU States such as UK and France. UK is cooperating with Pakistan’s police force on counter-terrorism including operational cooperation and capacity building. Likewise, Pakistan and France are cooperating in the field of defence and our Navy and Air Force have been the beneficiaries of the French defence equipment. The institutional structure of EU limits enhanced political and strategic relations with non-EU member states but EU can play a role within its institutional structure and can initiate cooperation in several other areas to further expand existing trade relations. It can add more content aimed at improving health facilities and education in Pakistan and can also enhance investment in infrastructure development for sustained economic growth. 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 discussions 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. European Union stands by Pakistan in struggle to combat violent extremists and terrorism as Pakistan has suffered from extremism more than any other country. This was stated by Andris Piebalgs, EU Commissioner for Development while delivering a lecture on “The Future of EU – Pakistan Relations” at School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He asserted that “We need to work together to combat the menace of extremism. The EU is anxious to reach out all those who believe, as Jinnah believed, that it should be possible- even in a state where one religion dominates- to give space and respect to those with different cultural traditions” In the backdrop where Pakistan cooperation with the “West” has become a controversial topic in Europe however, Pakistan’s role in South Asia and in the world is at the top of the political agenda. The EU monitored and supported the 2008 elections, and offered full political backing to the new government. The EU is assisting Pakistan in all the areas which are vital for its democratic development including work with the educational establishments, with police and prosecution services, and with the elected representatives” he added. Europeans collectively, have interests in this part of the world. EU representatives have asserted that they would like to see reconciliation between Pakistan and India as they want peace in Afghanistan. Further, Pakistan and Europe have many common values; we have many common concerns and common interests. The EU believe to offer Pakistan a commitment of support for the long term. To build a strong and reliable relationship based on mutual interests. Both countries have already come a long way in advancing our relations since the EU-Pakistan Cooperation Agreement entered into force in 2004 by reinforcing political dialogue and Joint Commissions that meet on a regular basis. European Union is not only the economic power house of the world it excels in global governance and human rights. EU- Pakistan relations are multi-layered. It is Pakistan’s largest trading partner and has always provided Pakistan with humanitarian assistance at the time of natural calamities. Like any traditional relationship, this association also needs tobe further bolstered in wake of global pressure. On one side Pakistan should focus on its commitments towards rule of law, transparency, encourage participation, accountability and sustainability. Pakistan should also focus on meeting the requirements relating to labour laws and environmental conventions. The business community of Pakistan needs to explore the European market and exploit it to its maximum potential. Keeping in view the volume of trade between India and EU, Pakistan still lags behind greatly as its exports have captured only 0.33% of EU markets. Also, there are issues of illegal immigrations to Europe; Pakistan and EU should work out an institutionalized solution to the problem. This will help in mitigating adverse effects of anti-immigration policies of some European countries. Currently more than 75% of Pakistan’s export to EU are textile oriented and leather product. To get maximum benefit from the EU market, the country needs to diversify its exports to the EU. So far, Pakistan does not have globally well-known trade market which can convince the international business community about innovation and quality of Pakistani products. Pakistan needs to encourage and support business houses to invest and develop trust worthy trade markets. Pakistan should work on improving the quality standards of its exports to the EU. The exporters and producers should be sensitized on the strategic significance of the EU market and they should be facilitated to meet the quality standards acceptable in the EU market. Also, Pakistan should make concrete efforts to implement all the conventions to which the country is a signatory and EU expects her to honor them all.