Pakistan’s industry eager to tap ‘gold mine’ India

By Manik Mehta, IANS

Frankfurt : Shaken by a series of political upheavals that have rocked Pakistan last year leading to the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistani business community is eager to establish closer ties with India which is perceived as an “untapped gold mine just next door”.

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Visiting Pakistani businesspeople were saying this at the just-concluded four-day HeimTextil fair in Frankfurt, rated as the world’s largest trade show for the home-textile industry.

Indeed, Pakistan’s business community has been closely monitoring the attention India has been getting from the international corporate world that has been pouring in investments.

Iqbal Ibrahim, the managing director of Karachi-based textile mill Al-Karam and also chairman of the apex textile organization, All Pakistan Textile Mills Association, said Pakistan’s business community is “very much interested” to have closer ties with India.

“India is our next-door neighbour with a strong middle-class population of 360 million consumers. This would be a huge export market for Pakistan-made garments and textiles,” Ibrahim said in an interview with IANS at the HeimTextil fair.

Al-Karam has a variety of business interests, including manufacture of bed linens and fashion garments for women.

Ibrahim acknowledged that a travel advisory against Pakistan in place was dissuading many businesspeople from travelling to that country.

“However, many of our established and would-be customers from several Western countries have, instead, come to our stand at the HeimTextil show to place orders. We have done brisk business,” Ibrahim said as a steady stream of businesspeople arrived at the stand.

Bashir Ali Mohammad, a leading industrialist and chairman of Karachi based Gul Ahmed Textile Mills Ltd., a heavyweight player in Pakistan’s textile industry, expressed similar sentiments.

“We want closer ties with India but India needs to be fair and should open its market by reducing the high and obstructive tariffs. There are also non-tariff barriers in India such as delaying tactics in clearing consignments which are urgently needed for a trade show or to cater to a seasonal trend,” Ali Mohammad said.

He pleaded for “magnanimity” from India, which as a “big brother” should be generous and liberalize imports from Pakistan and also ease up on the restrictive visa policy for Pakistanis. “Businesspeople need to travel to each other’s customers to finalize deals and other matters. This will also promote interaction between the two business communities.

“India has become a strong power and its economy is booming. It needs to push the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) process, which is moving very slowly. Why does India give preferential treatment to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka products and not to Pakistan’s exports? The two-way trade between India and Pakistan is only $1 billion. This is just a drop in the bucket. There is potential for much greater trade,” he said.

Many in the 169 strong Pakistani exhibitor contingent at the HeimTextil did brisk business at the show, as many Western buyers preferred to meet their Pakistani suppliers at the show rather than travel to that crisis-plagued country.

Pakistani exhibitors said that they had become “accustomed” to crises in their country since Sep 11, 2001, but their business had not been affected, except for slight delay in shipments because of congestion at Karachi port following Bhutto’s assassination.

They harped on the Pakistan industry’s “resilient character” which had helped it to “bounce back” even during the crisis. Indeed, the crisis had shown that Pakistan is a “reliable supplier” even in such a situation, Bashir Ali Mohammad said.

He criticized the US for not including Pakistan in the list of 60 countries that enjoy free market access. “If Egypt can get zero tariff, why not Pakistan which has been a faithful ally in the war on terror?”

Adnan Bashir, general manager (home textiles) of the Lahore based Paramount Spinning Mills Ltd., part of the Gulistan corporate stable and the country’s second largest textile group, averred that international customers continue to buy from Pakistan.

“Indeed, US companies are making investments in Pakistan’s textile sector. Spring Global Industries finalized a deal with a Lahore company for manufacturing bed sheets,” Bashir claimed.

Textile exports account for some 60 percent of Pakistan’s overall exports. The textile industry contributes about 12 percent of the national GDP, according to Bashir.

Pakistan’s ambassador in Berlin, Shahid Kamal, told IANS that German-Pakistani two-way trade had surged to $2 billion and the signs were that “it will further grow”.