Pakistan’s economic tilt towards Africa
AFRICA spreads over 30 million km2 which makes it the second largest continent of the planet earth.
Africa is also the second most populous continent. The continent sits at the intersection of international commerce and is adjacent to critical sea lanes of communication.
Being strategically located this continent is full of natural resources and minerals. It has 10 per cent of the world’s proven oil reserves, and about 8 per cent of proven gas reserves.
According to an estimate Africa has 60 per cent of world’s diamonds, 40 per cent of its phosphate, and 30 per cent of its cobalt. The geoeconomic significance of the continent is increasing with every passing year.
Not only leading global powers like the US and China but regional powers like India and Turkey are actively trading and maintaining relations with countries of Africa. Historically, Pakistan has maintained cordial relations with all African countries.
Pakistan’s moral and political support to Algeria, Kenya, Sudan, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, Morocco, Libya, Egypt, and Nigeria in their struggle for independence is duly acknowledged by these countries.
In the early 1970s many trade delegations visited Pakistan in order to enhance trading relations between the two sides.
However, these visits were fading with the time because, on one hand, Pakistan was entangled in the so called Cold War politics and Afghanistan imbroglio. On the other, Pakistan gave little importance to relations with small countries as it focused more on relations with major powers.
Lack of engagement between Pakistan and Africa has been the main reason behind low trade between the two sides.
This lack of engagement kept the trade stagnant at $US 3 billion with Africa for many years in the past. But recently in 2017 Pakistan announced ‘look Africa Policy’.
This policy is also known as ‘Engage Africa Initiative’ and was launched by Ministry of Commerce. The main purpose of this policy is to enhance connectivity between Pakistan and Africa.
The policy adopts such measures which could help in boosting trade with top ten economies of the continent. According to the policy those countries include Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Morocco, Senegal, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Tanzania and Ethiopia.
According to Ministry of Commerce throughout the first phase, accreditations were granted, TDOs were appointed and six new commercial sections were opened in Africa, including Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Senegal, Sudan and Tanzania.
Look Africa Trade Forums were held in Pakistan’s main cities to raise awareness among the commercial sector.
Joint Working Groups (JWGs) are being established on trade to begin discussions on bilateral/multilateral trade agreements for market access in Africa.
An Africa Cell has been created at Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) Karachi. Special assistance to delegations travelling to and from Africa is facilitated.
Government facilitation of Pakistani enterprises’ is enhanced for participation in African trade exhibitions. And a 2% extra tariff reduction on some commodities exported to Africa has been implemented.
Under the ‘Engage Africa Initiative’ Pakistan is heading to increase its diplomatic presence on the African continent by establishing mission in Djibouti, Angola, Rwanda, Uganda, Ghana and Ivory Coast.
In Algeria, Ethiopia, Senegal, Nigeria and Kenya commercial sections will be established as soon as possible.
These measures being employed are bringing some fruition, according to Ministry of Commerce Pakistan-Africa trade surpassed the mark of $US 4 billion in the year 2019-20.
No doubt the policy adopted can bring a lot but Pakistan is also facing challenges in materializing the objectives set by ‘Engage Africa Initiative’.
The main challenge is Pakistan’s lack of diplomatic presence on African continent which limits its capability to enhance cooperation. Pakistan has only 17 diplomatic missions in Africa.
Other countries on the continent are accredited by these missions. Secondly, Pakistan is confronted by many economic challenges which make it difficult for country to approach all the countries of Africa. Energy crisis in country has resulted in disruption of exports.
As some of the challenges have been identified here steps must be taken to overcome them. Therefore some recommendations in this regard are given below.
Pakistan should increase diplomatic missions in Africa to enhance engagement with the countries of Africa.
Government to government (G2G) and business to business (B2B) meetings which are direly needed should be facilitated.
An effort must be made to identify fields and sectors which can be exploited for boosting trade with African countries. Pakistan should tackle the increasing energy crisis.
Pakistan should abandon its age old foreign policy approach of giving weightage to relations with great powers only. The country should try to make cordial relations with every country on the continent.
Islamabad cannot only benefit economically but also these countries’ support in many international forums can be helpful for the country.
—The writer is a political analyst, based in Islamabad.