Pakistan and Philippines: A journey toward friendship

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PAKISTAN: Pakistani and Philippine bilateral relations date back to Sept. 8, 1949, when a diplomatic bridge was built connecting the two countries, and a Philippine Consulate was opened in Karachi; but even before this, bilateral cooperation had already begun. On July 16, 1949, the two countries signed an air-service agreement. Since then, bilateral relations have flourished, spanning diverse sectors.

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Historically speaking, both countries have undergone similar experiences and have passed through similar phases. Both gained independence by throwing off the yoke of colonialism. Likewise, both experienced long spell of martial law and succeeded in overthrowing the dictatorial rule, as well as achieving a successful transition toward democratic rules. There exists the commonality of views on various regional and international issues. The most common trait that bind the two peoples is the hospitality and warmth toward foreigners. All this has helped build a reservoir of goodwill between the two peoples and governments.

To cement friendly relations further, the two countries, on Jan. 3, 1951, jointly ratified a treaty of friendship in Washington, DC. The treaty inter alia ensures “perpetual peace and everlasting unity between the two countries and their people[s].”

In 1954, Pakistan and the Philippines joined the US, the UK, France, Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand in setting up the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). The treaty was signed on Sept. 8, 1954, in Manila, and became operational in Feb. 1955. SEATO signifies a pledge by the signatories to provide mutual aid in case of armed attack or subversion. It provides the two countries significant assurances that they have friends on their side, and has brought the two countries closer.

There have been high-level exchanges between the two countries, including:

Visit by Prime Minister Husseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, in May 1957. The visit led to the elevation of the Philippine legation in Karachi to an embassy;

Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo, in May 1988;

Prime Minister Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, on Feb. 17 – 18, 1995;

President Musharraf visited Manila on April 18 – 20, 2005;

Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal paid a visit to Pakistan in July 1962. Incidentally, he was accompanied by teenage daughter Gloria, who eventually became president of the Philippines in 2001;

Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos visited Pakistan in 1997.

Apart from these, there have been a number of visits at ministerial and working levels. The leaders of the two countries met with each other on the sidelines of meetings during various international and regional forums.

Policy consultations
A policy consultation mechanism exists between the two countries. It provides an opportunity to review bilateral relations. Its fourth-round of consultation was held in Manila, in Jan. 2015. The two sides reviewed bilateral relations and expressed satisfaction at the continued growth of mutually beneficial cooperation in diverse fields, including trade, commerce, and other spheres. Both sides reiterated their commitment to further intensify cooperation in the fields of culture, tourism, trade, education, and science and technology, as well as to promote people-to-people contacts. They also agreed on the need for greater interaction between their respective private sectors.

Agreements
So far, 22 agreements and memorandums of understanding (MOU) have been finalized between the two countries and many more are in the pipeline. These include trade agreement, cultural exchange agreement, agreement on avoidance of double taxation, agreement on promotion and protection of investment, cooperation agreement between the two chambers, agreement to establish a joint economic commission, and so on and so forth. In short, the two countries have signed almost all the agreements that can help establish a very strong and progressive cooperation between them.

Multilateral cooperation
Pakistan and the Philippines have been cooperating on issues of international significance. Hence, they jointly tabled a resolution—“Promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace”—in the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly in its plenary meeting on Dec. 3, 2015 which was adopted by consensus. The resolution was first introduced in 2005 as a response to the then-prevailing theory of “Clash of Civilization.” Both countries also support each other’s candidatures at the UN and other multilateral organizations on reciprocal basis.

Philippines supported Pakistan’s bid for attaining dialogue partnership with the Asean or Association of Southeast Asian Nations, while Pakistan supported the Philippines’ bid to acquire observer status in the OIC or Organization of the Islamic Conference (now Organization of Islamic Cooperation). OIC groups 57 Muslim states across four continents and is tasked to protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among peoples of the world.

Commerce and Trade Relations
Bilateral trade between Pakistan and the Philippines is close to $100 million, with the former’s exports reaching $61.7 million while the latter’s exports amounting to $33.6 million. Major exports from Pakistan include textiles, rice, pharmaceutical products, leather hides, fruits, sport goods, and surgical instruments. Philippine exports, on the other hand, include automotive parts, paper products, food preparations, electronics, and packaging materials.

This shows that the two countries’ bilateral trade has a very narrow base and, therefore, needs to be broadened. Efforts to further enhance and diversify bilateral trade have borne fruit, registering some palpable improvements.

In this regard, some trade delegations from Pakistan visited the Philippines during the last 2 – 3 years and held useful discussions with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and other businessmen. These included a delegation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries, in Aug. 2014, and a 15-member Rice Exporters of Pakistan (REAP) trade mission in April 2015. In addition, a number of businessmen dealing in pharmaceuticals and fruits also visited the Philippines during this period. An invitation has been extended to PCCI, to undertake a visit to Pakistan. Regular exchanges between the two sides will help enhance their bilateral trade.

The Embassy of Pakistan in Manila is also working on the initiative of opening direct flights between Manila and Karachi to facilitate travel of tourists and businessmen to and from Pakistan and the Philippines.

There is very minimal investment from two sides. Pakistan offers very lucrative terms for foreign investments in almost all sectors. These include power and energy, agriculture, mining and gems, infrastructure, construction, information technology and telecom, textiles, and automotive, among other industries.

Foreign investors are allowed repatriation of 100 percent of their profit, capital, and dividends. A 100-percent foreign equity is allowed both in the manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors. Tax relief is extended to foreign investors.

There is a small but energetic Pakistani community in the Philippines, not exceeding 1,400. These include professionals, businessmen, and students, among others. A considerable number of these Pakistanis are working in the Manila-based Asian Development Bank, a multilateral development finance institution. Likewise, there are about 3,000 Filipinos residing in Pakistan, mostly working as domestic servants, professionals, and nurses, among others in major Pakistani cities. Both communities act as a bridge between the two countries, and are a contributing factor toward attaining stronger bilateral relations.

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