What are your views on Pakistan’s economic reforms?
Pakistan has the potential to become an important player in the global economy, and we are encouraged by Prime Minister Khan’s economic reform agenda. We welcome his Digital Pakistan initiative to capitalize on Pakistan’s young, tech-savvy population. We have also seen policy reforms to make it easier to obtain construction permits, start a business, access electricity, and trade across borders – all of which contributed to Pakistan’s Ease of Doing Business ranking rising an impressive 28 slots and being identified as one of the top 10 reformers globally in 2019, according to the World Bank.
As I am sure your readers know, the IMF Executive Board approved a 39-month program for Pakistan that could provide as much as $6 billion to the country if it adheres to the robust set of program commitments to bring about macroeconomic stability, lay the foundation for robust and sustainable growth, reduce debt, and improve financial integrity by meeting its action plan commitments set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). We strongly encourage Pakistan to work with FATF and the international community to fully meet its action plan commitments and uphold its anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing obligations. That includes fulfilling its commitments under UN Security Council Resolution 1267 to freeze and prevent the raising and moving of funds belonging to or associated with UN designated terrorist groups. The United States is eager to expand economic ties with Pakistan, but ultimately Pakistan’s economic progress hinges on sustainable and irreversible implementation of its FATF action plan.
I would also like to reiterate a message that we deliver consistently around the world, and that is that good governance, rule of law, transparency, and market-based policies are the keys to a thriving private sector and sustained growth. We welcome any and all steps that harness the talent and potential of Pakistan’s population and build a more open business environment based on these principles.
How could Pakistan further improve its trade relations with the USA?
The United States is the largest export market for Pakistan’s goods and Americans were again on pace to be the top buyer of Pakistani products in 2019. U.S. exports to Pakistan also reached a record high of $2.9 billion in 2018. Trade creates jobs in both our countries, so clearly we want to see it continue to grow. To do that, we encourage Pakistan to continue with its economic reform efforts and look for ways to improve the climate for foreign businesses. For example, we welcome recent increases to Pakistan’s textile and apparel exports, as well as Pakistan’s steps to reduce tariffs on cotton, enabling U.S. cotton imports to Pakistan. We would like to see Pakistan develop more formalized, predictable regulations on agricultural imports. We think there is much room to improve the environment for Pakistani startups by building more modern, flexible capital markets to attract venture capitalists. We also encourage Pakistan to bring intellectual property rights protections and enforcement in line with international standards, which would send a clear signal to U.S. and international businesses that Pakistan is serious about improving its economic climate. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Innovation Policy Center reports a high correlation between improved intellectual property regimes and increases in foreign investment, innovation, and development.
We encourage Pakistan to take full advantage of its benefits under our Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which allows Pakistani companies to export about 3,500 eligible items to the United States duty-free, including many manufactured items and agricultural products. Examples this year range from jewellery to spices, exercise equipment, and dates. It’s also a little-known fact that Pakistan can enhance its GSP benefits by coproducing export items with Afghanistan, which has GSP access for an additional 1,500 products, from food to chemicals to kitchenware. GSP cooperation offers enormous opportunities to enhance cross-border commerce between the two countries.
In my recent speech at the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Karachi, I outlined these steps and others Pakistan could take to increase trade with the United States, as well as how the U.S. Government works in partnership with Pakistan on these efforts through agencies like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Commerce Department, in addition to our economic officers at our Embassy and Consulates. But I also emphasized in this speech that the United States is not a planned economy. U.S. companies make decisions based on profit and risk calculations and market-based opportunities. So, while we are committed to expanding trade and investment with Pakistan, at the end of the day, U.S. companies will draw their own conclusions about whether Pakistan offers them a welcoming business climate and a good return on their investment.
In which socio-economic areas can the U.S. help Pakistan?
We have a strong legacy of assistance to Pakistan in a vast range of socio-economic areas. The U.S. Mission to Pakistan recently launched a new social media campaign, #Partners4Prosperity, which highlights the many ways the United States partners with Pakistan to support Pakistan’s development. I hope your readers will visit the Mission’s social media pages to learn more.
The most important characteristic of American assistance to Pakistan is that it is composed primarily of grant aid and not loans. It is focused not on profit, but on directly supporting Pakistan’s economic development. This is not the case with some of Pakistan’s other major partners. With U.S. assistance, Pakistan and its people are not required to repay the funds or programs made available to them. I will focus on energy and education in providing some examples of how our assistance can improve lives and livelihoods, but please know there are many other areas I could discuss, from health to judicial reform to countering narcotics.
The United States’ work in the energy sector since 2009 has led to over 3,500 megawatts added to Pakistan’s power supply, benefiting more than 42 million Pakistanis. It has also helped Pakistan transition away from burning expensive oil and towards natural gas and clean renewable energy, a key priority for Prime Minister Khan’s Administration. For example, we made wind development possible by connecting Pakistan’s first wind power corridor to the national grid. And the United States’ work with the Pakistani government supported the planning, designing, and financing of Pakistan’s first liquified natural gas import terminal, as well as several natural gas-fired power plants, mobilizing about $2.4 billion in investment with approximately $1.3 billion in equipment sales for U.S. companies.
We have helped train 45,000 teachers and school administrators, reached 1.8 million public school learners, and provided 19,000 scholarships to Pakistanis to attend higher education in Pakistan. Over the decades, the United States has helped establish some of Pakistan’s most prestigious educational institutions and centers, including Lahore University of Management Sciences, the Institute for Business Administration and – more recently – the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, and the Center for Advanced Studies in Energy at the National University of Science and Technology. The United States government brings over 800 Pakistanis a year to the U.S. on educational and cultural exchanges, making it the largest exchange program portfolio worldwide, including the world’s largest Fulbright foreign student program. The U.S.-Pakistan exchange program alumni network exceeds 29,000 people, building people-to-people ties.
In addition to these efforts, the United States has just recently modernized our development finance capabilities with the creation of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). The DFC more than doubles the U.S. Government’s global development finance capacity to $60 billion and equips us with new tools, such as the ability to make equity investments and fund feasibility studies. The DFC will advance private-sector-led development, resulting in projects that adhere to high standards and are financially viable over the long haul.
Our bilateral relationship is now maturing to one more focused on trade than aid, and we are continuing to target assistance in ways that help improve the overall business climate. We will focus on private-sector inclusion across fields, building capacity of Pakistani firms and ties between our two countries.
What can Pakistan especially learn from the U.S. in the health and education fields?
Our work in the health and education fields in Pakistan is informed by U.S. best practices and an understanding of the local Pakistani context. The United States has invested more than $600 million since 2002 to support the health sector by partnering with local stakeholders to address major health challenges such the emergence of drug-resistant infectious disease outbreaks and coordination of disease surveillance and response. The United States has supported tuberculosis prevention, access to clean drinking water, and detection systems for cross-border infectious diseases. Achieving sustainable progress in Pakistan’s health requires smart investments in strengthening the health system and its core functions, such as human resources, information, finance, medical commodities, and service delivery.
The United States has worked to promote dialogue between U.S. and Pakistani students and education professionals, particularly through the Fulbright program, which is marking its 70th anniversary this year. Over seven decades, Fulbright has supported more than 6,300 Pakistanis to study and conduct research in the United States in disciplines critical to Pakistan’s long-term social and economic development, building a cadre of experts in education, health, civil society, finance, economics, technology, and business. Based on recent survey results, Pakistani Fulbright alumni have benefited greatly from their experience in the United States. They report that as faculty back home in Pakistani universities, they are collaborating with their American colleagues and replicating novel approaches to instruction and learning experiences such as internships, study abroad, research conferences, and mentoring.
In my discussions with my Pakistani counterparts, I made a point to emphasize that investing in education creates the foundation for sustainable economic growth. According to UNICEF, a shocking 22.8 million Pakistani children aged 5 to 16 are not in school. That’s 44 percent of its school-aged population. I encourage Pakistan to invest in the talents and potential of its young population so that the next generation will be successful in the global economy.
What role does the US visualize for itself in the India-Pakistan dispute regarding Kashmir and the plight of Muslims in India, in general?
Since last August, we have publicly expressed our concerns with the detentions and communications restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir and called for the resumption of normal political life
Respect for religious freedom is both a core American value and a fundamental human right. We emphasize the importance of religious freedom in our engagement with all countries, including India. We urge India to protect the rights of its religious minorities in keeping with India’s Constitution and democratic values.
What are the common goals of the United States and Pakistan in terms of bringing peace and security to Afghanistan?
President Trump and Prime Minister Khan agree that a negotiated end to the Afghanistan conflict is a shared priority, an outcome that would avoid further violence and suffering for the Afghan people and open the path to a stronger U.S.-Pakistan relationship. We have appreciated Pakistani steps to advance the peace process to date, and we continue to encourage Pakistan to use its influence to promote security and stability in Afghanistan. Resolving the Afghan conflict peacefully presents significant opportunities for Pakistan and the broader region.
What are those fundamental areas in terms of social development that the United States believes Pakistan must address first?
We believe it is for Pakistan, not the United States, to determine where to focus its development efforts. But as with any country, we think sustainable development comes from long-term capacity building and investing in people and that includes not just investing in quality education but also protecting human rights and human dignity. I think my boss Ambassador Alice Wells said it best in a recent speech: “U.S. economic and commercial engagement, security cooperation and development initiatives have advanced freedom, openness, and economic prosperity across South Asia, enabling nations like Pakistan to develop their own strengths.”
‘The United States and Pakistan have and will continue to work closely together to address humanitarian issues.’
How do you look forward to the United States and Pakistan continuing to work together on the humanitarian front?
The United States and Pakistan have and will continue to work closely together to address humanitarian issues. Over the past year, the United States has provided more than $64 million to support humanitarian activities that improve water, sanitation, and hygiene; promote food security; and support shelter, protection, and education for millions of Pakistanis and Afghan refugees impacted by natural disasters or conflict. In recent decades, the United States has provided large-scale assistance after natural disasters like earthquakes and floods. The U.S. also works with communities in Pakistan to prepare for and reduce the impacts of humanitarian crises through disaster risk reduction programs. U.S. humanitarian assistance is provided through humanitarian partners, including the United Nations and NGOs. Unfortunately, many well-respected NGOs working on humanitarian issues have had their important work negatively impacted by an intrusive and opaque registration process. We hope to see the operating environment for these organizations improve and look forward to continued collaboration on humanitarian issues.
About Ervin Massinga
Ervin Massinga is the US State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Pakistan Affairs at the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA). He previously served as Director of the Office of Pakistan Affairs within SCA. Mr. Massinga is a career Foreign Service Officer since 1995. Prior to becoming Director of the Office of Pakistan Affairs, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Khartoum, Sudan from 2016-2018, and in Conakry, Guinea from 2013-2016. Other assignments include overseas tours in the Dominican Republic, Chile, Cote d’Ivoire and China, as well as domestic assignments in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the Bureau of African Affairs, the Bureau of Energy and Economic Affairs, and at the Office of the United States Trade Representative. Mr. Massinga is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service (1990) and the University of Washington’s Graduate School of Public Affairs (1995). He is the recipient of several State Department Meritorious Honor Awards and a Superior Honor Award. He speaks Spanish, French, and Mandarin Chinese.
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