David Cameron to push EU to ease Pakistan trade terms

British Prime Minister wants to give Pakistan ‘enhanced access’ to EU markets, but is likely to find opposition from more protectionist countries

David Cameron wants to ease EU trade terms with Pakistan to help alleviate the damage done by flooding in the country.

David Cameron is pressing the European Union to agree a new regime of trade concessions to Pakistan to alleviate the country’s plight in the medium term, but has run into formidable opposition among more protectionist EU countries.

David Cameron comes to Brussels for an EU summit determined to push the Pakistan emergency to the top of the agenda. The summit was to be dominated by foreign policy priorities on the US, Russia, China and India.

Britain is keen to give Pakistan what is described as “enhanced access” to EU markets to help stabilise the country in the wake of the war in neighbouring Afghanistan. Over the summer Cameron reached out to Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistan president, by saying he would fight hard to give Islamabad preferential access to the EU.

A failure in the EU negotiations may harm Cameron’s attempts to soothe relations with Islamabad after he caused great offence by saying that Pakistan was exporting terrorism.

The prime minister has written to Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council chairing tomorrow’s summit, to call for “a concrete political commitment from the EU to Pakistan to enhance significantly its access to the EU market in the short term”.

In the letter, also sent to other European leaders and obtained by the Guardian, Cameron said: “I am absolutely convinced that we need to agree a significant measure on trade which delivers greater market access in the short term.”

Senior British diplomats argued that the scale of the Pakistani crisis meant that it was the most pressing issue for the summit, although Van Rompuy barely mentioned Pakistan in outlining his plans for the meeting.

The British push for trade privileges for Islamabad will be resisted by EU countries with big textile industries that fear having their markets flooded with cheap goods from the region. At least four countries, including Portugal, Italy and France, are reluctant to give trade privileges.

“There are problems getting them on board. Each option is complicated,” admitted a senior British diplomat. “There is a risk of raising this as an objective and failing to deliver.”

EU foreign ministers discussed British demands last week but failed to conclude an agreement. The concessions to Pakistan could entail reducing tariffs on its exports or the EU suspending the tariffs unilaterally, but, apart from opposition within the EU, this could also run into problems with the World Trade Organisation. The EU has already committed more than €230m (£191m) in emergency aid and flood relief to Pakistan, with the UK the biggest single EU national contributor at around €60m.

According to British government figures, the flooding has affected 20 million Pakistanis or one in eight of the population. “This is a disaster of biblical proportions,” said the senior diplomat. “There’s a need to deal with the longer-term impact.”

Brussels is planning a five-year “engagement plan” with Pakistan, but Cameron insisted that the EU must do more. “We should go beyond [that] to set out an ambitious new partnership on serious economic reform and trade, the benefits of which will be worth more to Pakistan than even a sizeable aid package.”

Source: guardian