Ambassador of Spain talks to CENTRELINE and DNA
Ansar Mahmood Bhatti
How would you describe relations between Pakistan and Spain? Our relations are cordial and friendly. Our two countries have a lot in common. The Muslim past of Spain ( Al-Andalus) makes our country a very attractive tourist destination for Pakistanis and more and more Spaniards are coming to Pakistan to discover the beauty of its mountains and landscapes.
Our two countries are willing to expand this good relationship by getting to know each other better. We are organizing a beautiful concert for April 2020 in which a Spanish flamenco group and Pakistani sufi performers will show everyone how beautifully both styles go together.
Actually, part of the flamenco tradition stems from Sindh and from the soulful and very spiritual chants that can still be heard in that region. The idea of melting together both styles proves that we have a lot of things in common and that we should explore more into our two cultures and find the many links that exist between them
Travelling and promoting cultural activities that bond our two nations are a both perfect ways of strengthening our already solid ties.
Also worth mentioning is the fact that our trade and economic relations are doing very well. The interest towards Pakistan as a potential market for Spanish companies is growing, and Pakistan is opening itself to our products and to possible investors by facilitating their presence here.
Can you share with us trade and economic volume between the two countries and how many Spanish companies are doing business in Pakistan and vice versa?
Roughly 1,3 billon USD per year. Pakistan exports more than one billion to Spain, mostly textiles, while Spain brings to Pakistan technology, tiles and olive oil. But there are several projects in the making. A Spanish company might start manufacturing helmets here in Pakistan. They would make the helmets according to the Pakistani regulations regarding the kind of helmets required to drive a motorcycle. This would be a milestone for it would imply a direct investment in Pakistan. Other companies are also exploring this market.
I would also like to underline that a few companies are making business here already. More or less 40 of them.
How would you comment on the investment climate in Pakistan? Do you think the foreign investors including the Spanish ones have enough reasons to come to Pakistan?
A lot of progress has been made the last five years, but there is still room for improvement. I cannot hide the fact that our trade volume plays in favour of Pakistan, therefore I would like to increase the level of our exports to Pakistan. That can be done , but for that to happen, Pakistan must ease the barriers that currently prevent many Spanish products from entering Pakistan … mainly the labelling of the product in Urdu and the Halal requisite also on the labels
Consumer goods from Spain would be appreciated by growing Pakistani middle classes and Spanish technology can foster the development of Pakistan. Railways could be an example of this. We are also ready to export items such as very high quality bathroom equipment made with a very groundbreaking design. Not only the materials such as porcelain are really competitive, but also the aluminum for the faucets and tubes. Kitchen equipment is also very competitive. Furniture with a modern design but a good price. And of course, technology that can be applied to different industries already operating in Pakistan
One way of improving trade and economic links is to establish contacts with the local business enterprise and chambers and you have already visited some chambers. Please tell us something more about such interactions and their utility with regard to promotion of trade and economic links?
Of course I have. They all have been really helpful and I, together with the Commercial attaché of the Embassy, have established links with many of them.
Chambers are really useful to guide possible future investors in Pakistan and also to organize trade fairs that our entrepreneurs can attend. They certainly promote trade and economic links between our two countries because they can illuminate us on what Pakistan can give and on what Pakistan expects from us.
Spain is an important EU member state therefore can help Pakistani products have access to various EU markets through Spain. Is it possible?
The very idea of the EU is to establish a common market with common rules. Therefore the tariffs applied to Pakistani products in Spain will be equal to the ones applied by other EU member states.
Pakistan is already enjoying the GSP+ (GSP+: GSP means a partial or full removal of customs duties on two thirds of tariff lines and the + stands for the special incentive arrangement for sustainable development and good governance. It slashes these same tariffs to 0% for vulnerable low and lower-middle income countries that implement 27 international conventions related to human rights, labour rights, protection of the environment and good governance)
Spain can very well encourage Pakistan to comply with the conditions under which the GPS + status was granted to Pakistan by the EU. As you know, this preferential status is offered to Pakistan in exchange for certain commitments assumed by Pakistan. Spain can only help Pakistan retain this status by reminding Pakistan of these commitments
Quite a large number of Pakistani Diaspora is now nestled in Spain. Can you share with us the figures and role of Pakistanis in Spanish development?
It is very difficult to provide a precise figure because many of the Pakistanis who arrived in Spain years ago have obtained the Spanish citizenship, therefore they are not registered as Pakistanis in Spain but as Spaniards. Nevertheless, the figure that we often give is 100.000. Most of them live in or near Catalonia, and they are really hard working people who definitely contribute to the welfare of our country with their efforts.
In past we used to hear some news about illegal immigrants from Pakistan to Spain but this trend seems to have been effectively addressed. Do you agree or still there are some cases?
Well, there are always cases of illegal immigrants arriving, not only to Spain, but to other EU countries. Once they arrive in a country which is part of the Schengen treaty, they can travel freely within the the Schengen space. But these are very isolated cases and we cannot talk about a trend or about a massive flux of Pakistani immigrants arriving into Schengen right now.
Tourism is yet another sphere where both countries can cooperate especially given the fact that Spain is a must-visit destination for tourists from around the globe. How can we move ahead in this particular field?
I am very happy to announce that the visa upon arrival for Spanish businessmen travelling to Pakistan is already a reality. I have spoken with some businessmen who have come to Islamabad for several meetings and they have already benefitted from this new system. As soon as tourists begin to realise that they do not need to go the Pakistani Embassy to get a visa to visit Pakistan, I am sure that the number of Spanish tourists will increase.
Pakistan must launch tourism campaigns that should be shown in targeted countries. We have all seen in Spain wonderful initiatives from countries that were totally unknown to the potential Spanish tourists and the results are very positive. Croatia, Malta , and other European countries that were not known by the Spanish traveler are now typical summer favorites… and that is all thanks to very well planned campaigns and also agreements with low budget airlines which were eager to expand their list of destinations. Pakistan must also develop its network of hotels and restaurants to offer a variety of high quality places to stay and eat. There is also room for improvement in the field of infrastructures… to attract tourism you must first prepare the country for the potential visitors. Spain can offer its experience and know how to help Pakistan in developing this promising industry
Regional situation these days is quite volatile because of developments in Kashmir and a non-agreement between US and Taliban on Afghanistan. How do seethesedevelopments?
I am optimistic because the different parties involved in both conflicts are talking as we speak. If there is dialogue, there is hope.
I beleive that prosperity is a priority for all the countries in the region. And prosperity and war are incompatible. Therefore a solution will be finally found. There might be upheavals and a contained amount of discontent, but I do not really think these conflicts will escalate. Negotiations are underway, and that must makeus hopeful and patient.