Saturday, May 18, 2024

H.E. Amna Baloch – Moving Things Forward

 INVIGORATING THE PAKISTAN-MALAYSIAN BOND

Quite often, a country’s story may not be told in full nor in the best of light by the mainstream media.

Enter International Business Review – We strive to present our readers with a comprehensive story on a nation with regards to business, its politics, its people and culture through the eyes of its Ambassadors and High Commissioners, in our exclusive feature – The Diplomat.

In this issue, we are proud to showcase this with the High Commissioner of Pakistan – H.E. Amna Baloch as we explore the High Commissioner’s endeavours to strengthen Pakistan’s ties with Malaysia.

 As a representative of a country, High Commissioner H.E. Amna stated that her appointment is a great privilege and is proud to have the honour for furthering Pakistan’s interests, enhancing diplomatic relations as well as fostering better cooperation between our Pakistan and Malaysia. “I see myself as a bridge between Pakistan and Malaysia, working to build strong relationships across all levels of society, from the people to the leaders, government officials, business leaders, and other stakeholders. As a result, I feel a great sense of responsibility to represent Pakistan with honour and integrity and strive to promote its values and culture wherever possible,” said Her Excellency.

“I believe diplomacy is one of the most powerful tools to promote peace, stability as well as prosperity in the world. As such, I am committed to working effectively to strengthen the relationship between our two great nations and I look forward to continue this journey with great enthusiasm and dedication.”

Exalting Bilateral Relations

Pakistan entered into a Free-Trade Agreement with Malaysia, namely the Malaysia-Pakistan Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (MPCEPA), which came into force on 1 January 2008. Despite the MPCEPA being instrumental in promoting trade and investment which has been steadily increasing year by year, it has not yet reached its true potential. According to Her Excellency, this can be contributed to a few factors which include challenges with logistics, high tariffs on some Pakistani products as well as information on market opportunities being somewhat limited.

However, since taking the reins in August 2019, H.E. Amna has been actively strategising to enhance bilateral ties between Pakistan and Malaysia across multiple spheres which includes trade, investment, tourism, people linkages and connectivity. According to Her Excellency, these goals have been the main agenda items in all of Pakistan Government’s trade and economic interactions.

“I am pleased to say that there are initiatives currently underway to address these challenges and increase Pakistan’s exports to Malaysia. For example, my team at the High Commission has been working closely with the Pakistan Ministry of Commerce and the Malaysian Ministry of International Trade and Industry to identify specific trade opportunities and address tariff and non-tariff barriers.”

Adding to this, the High Commission has been active in promoting Pakistani agricultural products such as rice and seafood to Malaysian parties through international trade fairs and business matching events. “We have generated a lot interests in Pakistani products from these efforts and we are optimistic that this will result in higher exports to Malaysia,” explained H.E. Amna.

Pakistan’s Biggest Exports to Malaysia in 2021

Staying on Pakistan’s exports to Malaysia, there is significant potential to increase exports with rice, fisheries and textile. According to H.E. Amna, this can be seen with the introduction of new export such as corn, cornmeal and rock phosphates to Malaysian markets. This has resulted in an upward trajectory of exports to Malaysia in the last two years. In fact, in 2021, Pakistan has achieved its highest ever export figures to Malaysia, reaching US$460 million. This is a remarkable achievement considering Pakistan has only manged to break the US$200 million mark in exports to Malaysia twice before 2019 – US$267 million in 2020 and US$239 million in 2021.

Another area of focus which has increased since H.E. Amna’s appointment is increasing the recruitment of Pakistan’s citizens in Malaysia, in line with the MoU signed between the two countries. “Through targeted efforts of my team at the High Commission, the number of Pakistani workers has increased by 50 percent over the last 15 months, the total number of Pakistani workers in Malaysia is now at 45,000, mostly working in the manufacturing, construction, plantation, agriculture, and services sectors. It is also interesting to note that Malaysia ranks 6th in terms of international destinations for Pakistani workers.”

Another area of the High Commissioner’s mission is the enhancement of connectivity between Pakistan and Malaysia. Pakistan’s very own airline – Pakistan National Airlines, now operates direct flights between our two countries on Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays while Malaysia’s Batik Air operate their direct flights on a daily basis. According to H.E. Amna, “this has given impetus to our efforts to promote and strengthen business, tourism, and people to people linkages.”

Last but not least is spiritual tourism. Pakistan is the proud custodian of historical religious sites of Sikhism and Buddhism. As such, the country attracts religious tourists from Malaysia’s Sikh and Buddhist communities that are seeking inspiration and spiritual rejuvenation. “Over the course of my tenure, I have met with various Buddhist and Sikh organisations in Malaysia. In March 2022, a Buddhist delegation from Malaysia visited Pakistan and were deeply touched to see how these sites have been preserved by the Government of Pakistan. So much so that the first “Explore Gandhara” Exhibition was organised by the Buddhist community in the Fo Guang Shan Temple in coordination with the High Commission, in August 2022.

Buddhism was central to the ancient Gandhara civilisation in Pakistan. Today, Pakistan is well known to historical as well
as religious tourists from around the world, attracting travellers from Malaysia, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and China.
Pictured here is the Amluk Dara Stupa, located at Swat Valley, Pakistan.

The Allure of Pakistan

The land of pure is a country with enormous potential economic growth and development, making it an attractive destination for potential investors to tap into. With a large population of over 200 million people, its workforce its aplenty. And it does not stop with volume alone, the nation also offers highly skilled workforce, particularly in areas such as IT and engineering.

Moreover, it is located at the crossroads of South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East, making Pakistan an essential geo-economic hub for trade and commerce. Its strategic location is a big plus considering the abundance of natural resources the country possesses such as minerals, natural gas and coal. To take things further, the Pakistan Government has also made great efforts to attract businesses to open up shop in the country. “The Government has implemented pro-business policies that aim at reducing the cost of doing business and improving the ease of doing business in Pakistan. As an emerging market, Pakistan offers significant potential for high returns on investment,” stated the High Commissioner.

Another highlight is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a flagship

project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Her Excellency went on to explain that “CPEC has created a network of highways, railways, and ports, connecting Pakistan’s Gwadar port with China, that has unlocked enormous potential for economic development in Pakistan.” In addition to CPEC, Pakistan has also established Special Economic Zones and Export Processing Zones to provide investors with a range of incentives, such as tax holidays, duty-free imports, and streamlined procedures for setting up and operating businesses. According to the High Commissioner, these economic zones offer investors viable investment opportunities and access to range of sectors which includes manufacturing, agriculture and services.

Going Forward

With a long-standing friendship that spans over six decades, it is a testament to the strength and resilience of bilateral ties in the Pakistan-Malaysian bond. With shared values and common interests, there is little doubt that the relation would continue to deepen and intensify, with more opportunities and collaboration in areas such as technology, food security, renewable energy, tourism and education to be explored.

For H.E. Amna, it is essential that our countries maintain an open and effective communication channels and engage in regular exchanges to better understand each other’s perspectives and priorities. With sustained and active engagement and dialogue, there can be greater trust, mutual respect and cooperation.

“By leveraging our respective strengths, we can make significant strides in these domains, which would ultimately benefit our people and contribute to the development of our economies. In conclusion, the future of Pakistan-Malaysia relations is bright, and I am optimistic that we can unlock the enormous potential for cooperation that exists between our two countries. By working together, we can create a brighter future for our people and contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous world,” said H.E Amna with a bright smile.

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