Britain’s minister for trade and investment has conceded that the terror threat in Pakistan has had an impact on the “willingness” for UK companies to do business there.
Minister of state for trade and investment, Lord Francis Maude, said although security in Pakistan had “improved”, “perceptions lagged behind reality”.
Lord Maude made the remarks at a business forum he hosted with chief minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, in London last week.
Over 150 businesses from the UK, Pakistan and China were at the trade event to discuss growing trade, investment and collaboration between the three countries.
Pakistan recently hanged four men linked to the Taliban for a massacre at an army school which killed more than 150 people, mostly children, in December 2014.
“I think (terrorism) has affected the willingness from businesses from overseas to come and do business in Pakistan,” Lord Maude told Eastern Eye.
“But. as I’ve said before, perceptions almost lag reality and there is no doubt in my mind that the security situation in Pakistan has improved very seriously indeed. We need to join with our Pakistan colleagues and friends and partners in making that known.”
The event focused on the energy and infrastructure sectors and also explored opportunities to secure investment and contracts in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Lord Maude said it was a real landmark because the UK and Pakistan have enormous links.
He said: “Last week I was at the Commonwealth gathering in Malta where I was reflecting in the business and the commercial context about how much easier it is for our businesses in each other’s countries to trade with each other.”
On why Britain appears more keen to do business with India after its prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UK last month, he said: “I don’t know why that is, but I do think that British business have not been as alert as they might be and not as aware to what the opportunities are in Pakistan.
“Also, in relative terms, it’s an easier place to do business, and that is of course because of a lot of opportunity and a lot of upside there.”
While addressing the business delegation, Sharif invited the world to invest in Pakistan’s energy sector and export industries. “In the changing international economic scenario, Pakistan’s importance is increasing with the passage of time and the developed countries should benefit from it,” he said.
Sharif also spoke about the elimination of terrorism as part of the national agenda. He said: “We are grateful to Britain for its support in its fight against terrorism.
“What happens in Lahore concerns London and vice-versa. What happens in Mirpur concerns Birmingham and vice-versa. With this trade backdrop, I can say with a sense of confidence that this is a great opportunity to enhance our economic cooperation, enhance our trade relations, and provide Pakistan the opportunity to beat poverty, unemployment and stand on its own feet.
“We need employment, we need to alleviate poverty and we need to really empower our people. Our youth is 60 per cent of our population.
“If we want to convert this to opportunities. we have to make huge strides, otherwise they will fall prey to those nutty outfits who pluck such youthful and empty handed people which has disturbed this peaceful world. We have to collectively defeat this menace.”