25th Oct 2016

EU foreign ministers to upgrade Pakistan effort

  • A US soldier surveys flood damage in Pakistan's war-torn Swat valley (Photo: The US Army)

EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton has sent a letter to the bloc's 27 foreign ministers asking to discuss a long term aid plan for Pakistan at an informal meeting next month.

The letter envisages a lunchtime debate on the flood-struck Asian country at a so-called "Gymnich" gathering of EU foreign policy heads to be held in Brussels on 11 September.

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Ms Ashton has also invited aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, development commissioner Andris Piebalgs and trade commissioner Karel De Gucht to the session to explore a multi-pronged EU effort.

Mr De Gucht will earlier the same day take part in an informal get-together of EU trade ministers in the EU capital, enabling him to bring group-of-27-endorsed proposals on trade options to the table.

"The idea is to come up with a sustainable, long-term approach to how we can help Pakistan, instead of just a one-off humanitarian relief effort. It's the same approach as the 10-year plan for Haiti," an EU official said. "This is the European External Action Service at its best, bringing together politicians, a military and defence aspect, as well as humanitarian aid and trade under one roof."

EUobserver has learned that two options under consideration are to extend low trade tariffs to Pakistan by including it in the EU's generalised system of preferences (GSP) scheme, or to tailor a one-off arrangement helping it to export a core set of six or so product categories, such as textiles, to the union.

Italy earlier this year urged EU states to give Pakistan GSP status, but the country has so far been excluded because its economy has been judged to be too highly developed to qualify.

Floods in northwestern and central Pakistan have affected 14 million people, caused some 1,600 deaths and destroyed crops, with the UN calling for €350 million in emergency international aid and saying the fallout could be worse than from the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the 2004 Asian tsunami combined.

The EU has so far given Pakistan a modest €40 million in short term flood aid, prompting criticism from charities.

"The European Union, the world's richest group of countries, can afford to be much more generous, yet some countries' efforts have so far been pitiful. The crisis has escalated, EU aid must do the same," Oxfam's humanitarian policy advisor, Kirsty Hughes, said in an emailed statement on Thursday (12 August).

The security situation in the country is complicating relief, with the EU's top envoy to Islamabad, Tomas Niklasson, earlier this week telling EUobserver that the disaster could weaken the pro-Western government in the strategically important country unless foreign allies step in.

A Pakistani Taliban spokesman on Thursday morning told press the militant organisation is ready to donate $20 million in support, while urging Islamabad to reject "Western" assistance.

"We condemn American and other foreign aid and believe that it will lead to subjugation," the group's Azam Tariq said.

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