First EFTA and Pakistan meeting concludes: Negotiations to continue in 2008

The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and Pakistani trade officials met in Geneva on 3 October 2007 in their first discussions to investigate how trade and investment relations can be expanded for mutual benefice. EFTA is a free trade association between Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The Pakistani delegation was led by Mr. Syed Asif Shah, Secretary, Ministry of Commerce, while the EFTA delegation was headed by Mr. Erik Underland, Chief Negotiator, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Norway.

Mr. Shah said, in his opening statement, “Pakistan has undertaken important economic reforms and as a result now has one of the most liberal trade and investment regimes in South Asia. Pakistan’s GDP has grown by 7% on average over the last three years and foreign direct investment has grown to US$ 8 billion… 600 multinational companies are working in Pakistan making huge profits.”

During this explorative and interactive meeting the delegations exchanged information on current trade regimes of EFTA States and Pakistan, on trade and investment flows, on existing trade agreements, and ongoing negotiations. Views on trade policies and the architecture of EFTA and Pakistan’s trade and investment agreements were also discussed.

In 2006, Pakistan-EFTA trade stood at approximately US$ 500 million. Pakistan’s main exports to EFTA are clothing, textiles, rice, leather products, sports goods, and surgical instruments. Main imports are machinery, chemicals, precious stones, electronic equipment, pharmaceutical products, iron and steel, and plastics. There are also major multinationals from EFTA Member States operating in Pakistan: Nestle, Novartis, and Roche from Switzerland, and Telenor from Norway are major investing companies.

Pakistan is proactive in bilateral and multilateral trade diplomacy with key partner countries and in the World Trade Organization. Pakistan has implemented free trade agreements with China and Sri Lanka. It has concluded negotiations on a comprehensive FTA with Malaysia and has recently agreed on a Preferential Trade Agreement with Indonesia.

The EFTA has 15 free trade agreements with 19 partner countries and territories around the world. Negotiations are in progress with Colombia, the GCC, Peru and Thailand. In addition, there are dialogues on possible negotiations with India and Indonesia. The EFTA States are the world’s tenth largest in trade in goods and fifth in trade in services. They are also among the world’s largest markets for both outward and inward investment flows. They rank among the ten countries with the highest GDP per capita.

The meeting concluded with an agreement to continue deliberations on ways and means of expanding trade and investment relations in early summer 2008. These deliberations will address all available trade policy instruments with a view to improving framework conditions and market access for goods, services and investment.

The Pakistan delegation

The Pakistan delegation was headed by Mr. Syed Asif Shah, Secretary, Ministry of Commerce. He was accompanied by Dr. Manzoor Ahmad, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the WTO, Ms. Ayesha Riaz, Ambassador, Embassy of Pakistan and Mr. Shahid Bashir, Joint Secretary (Foreign Trade). Other officials included Dr. Mohammad Saeed, Commercial Counsellor, Dr. Shaista Sohail, Economic Counsellor, Mr. Sharafat Ahmad, Research Officer from the Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the WTO, and Mr. Hussain Haider, Section Officer (Foreign Trade).

The EFTA delegation

The EFTA delegation was headed by Mr. Erik Underland, Chief Negotiator, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Norway. Also present were Mr. Kristin Arnason, Ambassador, Permanent Representative to EFTA, Permanent Mission of Iceland; Mr. Norbert Frick Ambassador, Permanent Representative to EFTA, Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein; Mr. Martin Zbinden, Minister, Head of Free Trade Agreements / EFTA Division, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. Mr. Didier Chambovey, Deputy Secretary-General represented the EFTA Secretariat. Other people present were Mr. Ragnar Kristjansson, Cousellor, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Iceland; Ms. Tanja Dannevig, Higher Executive Officer, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Norway; Mr. Max Schweizer, Deputy Head, Permanent Mission of Switzerland to EFTA and WTO; Ms. Regula Kienholz, Executive Officer, Free Trade Agreements / EFTA Unit, Foreign Economic Affairs Directorate, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, Switzerland; Ms. Merete Berg Fagerhaug, Senior Officer, and Mr. Tore Lines, Trainee, Trade Relations Division, EFTA Secretariat.