BRITAIN and Pakistan are considering opportunities to deepen trade links as Brexit approaches, a senior diplomat has revealed.
Syed Ibne Abbas, Pakistan High Commissioner for the UK, said Pakistan was working closely to establish a joint working group on trade with Britain.
Mr Abbas also predicted that Pakistan would benefit from closer ties between “our great friends” the UK and China. He made the comments during a trip to Yorkshire to meet business leaders and visit the Consulate of Pakistan in Bradford.
Mr Abbas told The Yorkshire Post: “Pakistan is open for business. We are one of the fastest growing economies in the region. There are opportunities for investment.
“There are opportunities post Brexit for the UK, because, of-course, the UK is going to be looking beyond Europe. We have had excellent relations (with the UK) for 70 years. Now we would like those good political relations to get translated into economic relations.
“We are already talking to the UK Government, and the responses we have got so far are very encouraging.
“We have had ministerial visits in the past and some important ministerial visits are lined up in the future.
“I can’t share the details, but I can share we are working very closely with them to set up a joint working group on trade, with post-Brexit in mind.
“We are also talking to the Government to have a special trade envoy for Pakistan. That will give an impetus to already existing relations.”
An International Trade spokeswoman said: “As the UK leaves the EU, our priority is to ensure that we do not disrupt our important and extensive trading relationship with Pakistan and we confirmed in June that we aim to maintain the access to the UK that Pakistan currently receives.
“As an international economic department, we are considering future opportunities to deepen even further our trade relationship with Pakistan, and to maximise the benefits on both sides from our arrangements.”
The trade envoy programme is a cross-party network of Parliamentarians from both houses whose role is promoting trade and investment between the UK and overseas markets.
Total trade in goods and services between the UK and Pakistan totalled £2.5bn in 2015, which was a 1.6 per cent increase on 2014.
Mr Abbas said Pakistan had demographic advantages which were helping its economy grow. Law and order had also improved in recent years, he added.
“We have 200 million people in the country and 60 per cent of our population is under the age of 35. We have about 120 UK companies already in Pakistan. Some of them are doing really very well.
“If they were not doing well, they would not be there. These are the things I am trying to relay to people; there are opportunities. Come and look at us afresh.”
He acknowledged that the dispute over Kashmir had soured relations with India for decades.
Dating from the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947, the dispute over Kashmr has threatened all-out war between the two countries.
Mr Abbas said: “We are not out to grab any territory or have a colonial rule on that part of the world, what we are saying is, ‘We must respect the right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people.’
“That’s our principled position, and we will stick with that. Let’s respect the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. They are the main stakeholders; you cannot treat the 20 million Kashmiris as nonentities. They are the people who are affected by this.”
He said complex problems such as the Kashmir dispute could be resolved through negotiations.
He added: “We need to talk to each other, rather than talking at each other, which has been the case for the last few years.”
Mr Abbas also highlighted the growing importance of the China-Pakistan economic corridor.
He added: “There are opportunities galore. I would particularly urge the British-Pakistani diaspora here to come and look at the opportunities afresh.
“The China-Pakistan economic corridor is a game-changer from our point of view. When the Chinese president came to the UK in 2015, the UK and China also signed 60bn dollars worth of trade deals.
“Two of our great friends, the UK and China are coming closer to each other...So we by default have become the most important link between our two most important friends and partners.”
DIPLOMATIC relations between the US and Pakistan have been historically very important, according to Syed Ibne Abbas, the Pakistan High Commissioner for the UK.
He added: “We consider the United States as one of our very strongest allies, and the US has always been there as a partner with us. But like any other thing we have also had our ups and downs; lows and highs.”
He said President Trump’s administration is re-evaluating its position in the region, particularly with regards to Afghanistan.
He added: “We hope once that is completed, we will have a better engagement, that’s they way to go forward. The fundamentals are there we have to build upon them.”
Before taking up his current role, Mr Abbas served at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, as the Additional Foreign Secretary.
He also served as the High Commissioner for Pakistan to New Zealand from 2010 to 2013.
Mr Abbas also visited Leeds, where he spoke to Natalie Sykes, the regional director of the Institute of Directors, and other leading business figures.