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EU Promises Pakistan Cooperation, But Free Trade To Wait

  • Ahto Lobjakas

EU President Belgian Herman Van Rompuy (center) and Comission President Jose Manuel Barroso (right) greet Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in Brussels.

EU President Belgian Herman Van Rompuy (center) and Comission President Jose Manuel Barroso (right) greet Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in Brussels.

BRUSSELS -- Pakistan and the European Union have promised to step up cooperation in areas ranging from security to energy during a summit in Brussels.

But Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani failed to make noticeable headway on Pakistan's chief aim -- securing free trade with the bloc.

The second visit by a Pakistani leader to Brussels in less than a year reflects the country's linchpin status in the global struggle against terrorism.

"Developments in Pakistan have a direct influence on Europe and in the whole world. Therefore it is in our own interest to be constructively engaged with Pakistan," noted the summit's host, Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the Council of the European Union.

Van Rompuy also observed that the EU is home to roughly a million people of Pakistani origin.

Pakistan's growing importance in the eyes of the world's largest powers was not lost on Prime Minister Gilani, who assured his host of his government's firm commitment to the struggle against Islamic extremism.

"Pakistan and the region are currently confronted with the menace of violent extremism and militancy, flowing from more than a generation of conflict in Afghanistan," Gilani said.

"During today's meeting I reiterated the full reserve of Pakistan's elected democratic government and our armed forces to defeat those elements who want to destabilize our country."

No Deal

Despite his allusion to the West's shared responsibility for the current crisis in Afghanistan, Gilani will have little to show in terms of tangible results when he returns to Pakistan.

The EU is by far Pakistan's largest trading partner, with an annual turnover of about $10 billion. But only 20 percent of Pakistan's exports arrive in Europe tariff-free, and its staple textile goods are subject to significant import duties.

Both sides said they agreed on a "five-year engagement plan" that would include enhanced economic and trade cooperation.

In a statement, they said they had started to work jointly toward further liberalization of trade in goods and services.

But the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said a free-trade agreement remains a distant prospect, as it will need the endorsement of all EU and World Trade Organization member states.

The EU today also said it would contribute 69 million euros ($83 million) to the Malakand Fund for the rehabilitation of conflict areas.

Although the EU and Pakistan also discussed security cooperation, the bloc's contribution remains limited to civilian matters -- training law enforcement officials, assisting in criminal justice reforms, and contributing to "counter-radicalization" measures.

NATO Assurances

Also in Brussels, at NATO headquarters, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen assured the Pakistani leader there would be no precipitate withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"I have stressed to the prime minister, and through him to the Pakistani people, NATO will stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to finish our job, there should be no misunderstanding about that," Rasmussen said.

"We count on Pakistan as a partner and we will be a partner to Pakistan as well."

Rasmussen held out the prospect of a broader NATO-Pakistan cooperation going beyond existing military-to-military contacts. He invited Pakistan to submit requests for specific NATO support.