Monday, June 2, 2008

A Pakistani's view

A few days after arrived from Islamabad, I met a Pakistani who has lived in the Philippines for about seventeen years; he is married to a Filipina. I told him that there are striking similarities between our two countries and that I sincerely started feeling at home in Islamabad and actually thought that I could live there quite happily.

My new friend, Muhammad Aslam, is the vice-president of the Pakistan-Philippines-Pakistan Business Council so naturally we spoke about the balance ( or imbalance!) of trade . He said there are many more products that Pakistan and the Philippines can sell each other but, sadly enough, neither seem to be exploiting this potential. There are Philippine products that are always in demand in Pakistan like canned food products of different brands,-- the Dole and Del Monte line of fruit and vegetables , different types of Century Tuna, Nata de Coco , powdered fruit juices like Tang and tinned sweet corn.

There is also an incredible market for dermatological products which abound in the Philippines like Eskinol-type astringents, crams and cosmetics based on virgin coconut oil. (Pakistan as a much drier climate.) There seems to be a bottomless demand for abaca rope( the famous Manila Rope) and other abaca-based goods, not to mention, solid wood and rattan furniture. Believe it or not, Pakistan is looking at the Philippines as a supplier of black pepper, ginger, and betel nut; yes, the common and much-maligned nganga is sought-after in Pakistan. Used newspapers and telephone directories can feed our neighbor’s recycling industries.

For their part, they are most willing to increase their rice exports as this is not a staple grain in Pakistan; all kinds of textiles are available from cotton to silk, as well as precious and semi-precious jewelry, leather goods and of course pharmaceutical products at very affordable prices.

So what are we waiting for?—I asked Mr. Aslam. What is keeping us from increasing the volume of trade? Woefully, he said that due to the exorbitant freight cost Pakistani Importers are constrained to buy their needs from other countries. Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand which have products similar to ours are reaping the benefits of a steady and lucrative trade with Pakistan. Mr. Aslam offers a simple computation: ahe freight cost for a 20 -fitter container from the Philippines to Pakistan is around US$ 1,350,while it is only between US$ 750-850 from Pakistan to Philippines; a 40-fitter container will cost US$ 2,700 from the Philippines to Pakistan but only US$ 1,350 from Pakistan to the Philippines. Seemingly insignificant, the difference has a direct impact on the final cost and competitive edge of all products.

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