Yasir Habib Khan
The role of France in helping Pakistan secure the GSP-Plus status in 2014 is writ large to all
Pakistan’s lost fortunes appear to be on their way to return; promising to improve its soft image internationally. More resilient relations with France appear likely on the heels of fresh development ignited by the French President when he consoled Pakistan that France would assist Pakistan in rebuilding its economy devastated by the recent savage flood.
Pakistan desperately needs such breath of fresh air in the backdrop of diminishing working relationships with the world and a widening trust deficit with the EU in the last few years. Now, this sincere offer put up by France is a fresh bonanza; urging Pakistan to capitalize on it with ingenuity.
French President’s warm gesture about hosting an international fundraising conference before the end of the year on contributions to the rehabilitation and the reconstruction of flood-affected areas of Pakistan is a harbinger of a new phase of Pak-France relations. After an all-time low in Pak-France affairs, the current glorious high has set a new tone of friendship.
France has always advocated Pakistan’s case in the EU as well as in the world. It has also come up with other assistance in financing related to climate-resilient reconstruction and sustainable transition to renewable energy.
The congenial meeting on the sidelines of the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly between French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister of Pakistan Shahbaz Sharif is a silver lining.
Robust and unflinching relations with France are always in the best interest of Pakistan. France is a permanent Security Council Member and the fifth largest economy in the world. It cherishes mega soft power: art, culture and old civilisation, handsome Muslim population, including rising substantial Pakistani population–more than ten per cent. It is estimated that Islam is the second-largest religion.
Even before exhibiting such vibes, France has been trying to provide Pakistan maximum benefits in the arena of finance, investment and cultural activities.
Given the economic downward trend when Pakistan’s GDP growth will likely drop to three per cent from a previous estimate of five per cent for the 2022-23 financial year, France’s amicable body language seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Besides, France has already laid down many supportive measures to rescue Pakistan financially.
On June 27, 2022, Pakistan and France signed an agreement for the suspension of loans under the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI). The loans amounting to USD 107 were initially to be repaid between July and December 2021. However, under the new agreement, they would now be repaid over six years, including a one-year grace period in semi-annual instalments.
During the last 25 years, Pakistani exports to France have increased at an annual rate of 2.2 per cent, from USD 371 million in 1995 to USD 639 million in 2020. Thus, Pakistan has the opportunity to strengthen and diversify bilateral trade and economic linkages with France beyond the textile sector.
Three years back, in connection with exploring business and investment opportunities in Pakistan, MEDEF International, a non-project private-funded organization (known to be the most representative of the French private sector at an international level) visited Pakistan with a delegation of 30 leading companies. MEDEF international gathers about 7000 French companies already operating in the world in 85 business councils in 85 business councils headed by 55 CEOs of major international French companies.
Similarly, in 2019, the Pakistan government and Business France signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to promote bilateral cooperation in trade, investment and business between the two countries. Business France is a French government agency created in 2015 with the merger of the French Agency for International Investment and UBIFRANCE. It is responsible for facilitating French small and medium-sized companies for their overseas investments and promoting France as an investment destination. The signing parties agree to help and support businessmen from the two countries in organising exhibitions, seminars and business missions.
In March 2022, for the very first time, French brand PEUGEOT launched operations through its local partner in Pakistan. Partnership to facilitate the creation of state-of-the-art assembly facilities would boost employment, localization and local automotive industry in Pakistan and enhance the internationalization of PEUGEOT.
The role of France in helping Pakistan secure the GSP-Plus status in 2014 is writ large to all. GSP Plus status enabled Pakistani exporters to increase exports by 65 per cent since joining the scheme. The scheme is scheduled to expire in December 2023, and this review is not just the usual biennial review to determine whether the GSP Plus status should continue, but whether it should extend for another 10 years, from 2024 to 2033. It is true that if Pakistan continues to do trust-building measures and cement its ties with France cashing in on the current situation, the chance of clinching the further extension of GSP plus status will be thickened.
Pakistan also needs France’s support in the FATF case. Pakistan has moved closer to being removed from Financial Action Task Force (FATF) ‘grey list,’ the support from France would be beneficial given its influence in the watchdog. It is high time for Pakistan to hash out a long-term and medium-term strategy to expand its diplomatic, political, economic and cultural relations with France to revamp its soft power as a tool to improve its image.