Continental Gateways: The Future of Pak – Mauritius Relations

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Pakistan and Mauritius diplomatic relations are spread over five decades. These have remained cordial since Pakistan recognized Mauritius’ independence as one of the first states to do so. Since then, Pakistan-Mauritius relations have matured into a stable friendship. People of the two countries enjoy close cultural affinity. Pakistan looks forward to strengthening friendship bonds with Mauritius. The two countries have cooperated at various international forums. Pakistan continues to support Mauritius on its claim over the Chagos Archipelago issue (Diego Garcia) at the United Nations.

Economic relations between the two countries are growing at a steady pace. Despite the fact that Mauritius is the only country in Africa that Pakistan has signed a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) in 2007, trade volumes still remain woefully below their true potential. In this regard, it is essential to hold the 11th round of Joint Working Group (JWG) on Trade at the earliest and review the list of goods and services agreed under the PTA. Whereas, the 10th JWG session took place in July 2014. The government of Mauritius has assured that the next session shall be held during this year.

The reasons for low levels of bilateral trade include absence of direct flights, high cost of transportation through other routes, alternative suppliers from other markets, and general lack of impetus from the business communities of both the countries, and that too is, mostly, due to a lack of awareness of their overall potential and the tedious visa regime.

To give boost to the tourism industries of the two countries as well as to enhance the volume of bilateral trade, the government of Pakistan is exploring various possibilities to establish direct air links between Pakistan and Mauritius. It is hoped that the initiative shall soon be materialized.

Before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, a trade delegation of Mauritian businessmen visited Pakistan in October 2019. From Pakistan side, visits of delegations from Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Rice Export Association of Pakistan in 2018 reflect huge interest of Pakistani businessmen in Mauritius. To this effect, Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) and Mauritius Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) have signed an agreement on mutual cooperation.

Recently, a group of 16 businessmen also participated in the ‘1st Pakistan Engineering & Healthcare Show 22’ held in Lahore during March 2022. Most of the participating companies have already dabbled in business with Pakistan. In addition to this, the government of Pakistan is organizing the 3rd Pakistan Africa Trade Conference in Johannesburg from November 30 – December 1, 2022 for members of SADC countries. Over 25 sectors are slated to comprise the conference and it is expected that a strong trade delegation from Mauritius will also participate.

In the past 54 years, Mauritius has seen remarkable economic transformation from a low-income, agriculture-based economy to a diversified, upper middle-income economy with growing industrial, financial, and tourist sectors. Democracy, Rule of Law which ensured political stability and sustained growth over the years, resulted in relatively equitable income distribution, increased life expectancy, lowered infant mortality and a developed infrastructure.

Mauritius is poised to focus more on global energy and food prices to avoid inflationary pressures that may constrain the island economy’s external position. All the economic indicators and international indices, especially the World Bank’s Doing Business Index 2021 had placed Mauritius at 13th rank which speaks volumes about the state of Mauritian financial institutions and ecosystem of business infrastructure. This data is highly promising for enhancing trade and economic relations between Pakistan and Mauritius.

The government of Pakistan stands proud to offer assistance to Mauritian students for Post Graduate and Undergraduate degrees and courses in various fields including Medicine, Engineering, B. Pharmacy, Banking and Dentistry. Moreover, a number of Mauritian diplomats have availed training at the Foreign Service Academy of Pakistan under the Pakistan Technical Assistance Program. Two seats are offered each year by Pakistan Marine Academy for Mauritian sailors. Pakistan Railways also offer scholarships at the Railways Academy in Lahore. In addition to this, the High Commission is pursuing the proposal of increasing the number of scholarships for Mauritian students as well as offering Masters and PhD slots in new technologies including Space Sciences, AI and Nano-technologies.

The visit of Pakistani Ophthalmologists to Mauritius for the last 12 years to perform free of charge eye surgeries has greatly helped the deserving patients. The High Commission wishes to thank the Mauritian Government for facilitating cornea transplant and vitro retinal surgeries being performed by eye surgeons from Pakistan in Mauritius and the visits of Pakistani Cardiologists to perform cardiac surgeries in the recent past.

For quite so long the initial engagement of Pakistan with Africa had been focussed on accelerating the liberation of African countries and to end conflicts on the continent by despatching its peacekeepers under the aegis of the United Nations. Evidently, that has brought lot of goodwill for Pakistan in the eyes of the Africans. But little attention was given to trade and economic interactions which remained very low. Pakistani diplomatic missions existed only in few African capitals. This however is experiencing a major paradigm shift under Pakistan’s “Engage Africa Policy”. A policy aimed at considerably enhancing and strengthening its political, diplomatic and economic linkages with the African continent while also expanding its cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

Mauritius, which is a long established friend of Pakistan, can be an important link in this initiative by virtue of its geographical location and its being a founder-member of several African regional bodies. At institutional level, the continent is structured by regional blocs, namely the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Common Market for Eastern & Southern Africa (COMESA), Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS). Mauritius is an active member of the SADC and COMESA and adheres to the free trade regimes of these two blocks. These sub-regional blocs are considered as building blocks that paved the way for the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in 2018. This continental free trade area can become a catalysing instrument for Pakistan in its Engage Africa policy, with the aim of doubling its trade with Africa by 2025. At sub-regional level in the African continent, Pakistan has initiated negotiations with South Africa Customs Union (SACU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and East African Community (EAC) with the objective of concluding trade agreements. The ongoing efforts under the ‘Engage Africa Policy’ have provided considerable exposure to Pakistan and is contributing in generating increased trade with some fastest-growing economies in Africa, namely Ethiopia, Rwanda, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Benin, Uganda and Kenya.

From the geo-strategic perspective, while Mauritius is considered as the “Star & Key of the Indian Ocean” as well as the regional hub for doing business with Africa, Pakistan is the gateway to the landlocked Central Asian States and it provides the shortest trade route to China. The Pakistan-Mauritius partnership can help to outreach and engage African countries for enhanced trade relations. Africa, endowed with raw materials and energy resources, is set to play a major role in global growth and development in the future. Pakistan will extend its assistance through, inter alia, transfer of know-how, development of skills and capacities and empowerment of local population.

Almost all the major powers have developed a formal platform or framework to interact with the African Union which regroups 56 African member-states. Without being in competition with anyone, Pakistan, with its new initiative, has its own style, pace, speed and timeframe to build partnership with African nations. While improving trade ties with African countries, Pakistan is resolved to multiply its diplomatic missions in key capitals of Africa. Pakistan has recently opened five new Missions in Africa. Moreover, local people have been appointed as Trade Development Officers (TDOs) in various African counties where resident Missions have not been established. These TDOs are working under the accredited Ambassador’s supervision and are responsible for the trade and development activities.

The element of connectivity will be crucial in moving forward the Pakistan’s Africa strategy. African continent is a huge mass of land where geographical diversity plays as physical barrier to movement of goods and people. Several international initiatives are in pipeline with a view to stimulate the economies of African countries across the continent in form major infrastructure projects like hydropower scheme, telecom equipment and cross-border railroads. All these initiatives have to be complemented with the significance of Pakistani ports to African countries, which has been acknowledged as the most viable option as far as the shipping cost and unimpeded access of African goods to Central Asian Republics and western China is concerned. The mega seaport of Pakistan, Gwadar, once fully connected by road links, will add new dimensions to regional as well as global trade. The new Gwadar port is destined to become the future business hub of Asia that will have far-reaching effects in the Indian Ocean and East African regions. Mauritius which envisions becoming a regional Freeport centre has larger stake in developing strategic partnership with Gwadar Port.

The Ocean economy of the West Indian Ocean region has a promising future. It is yet to be tapped. Both the “2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime (AIM) Strategy” and the “Agenda 2063” of African Union call for development of blue/ocean economy as their key goals. Mauritius has made the blue economy as one of the pillars of its future economic growth strategy. To that end, Pakistan envisages to promote cooperation in areas concerning blue economy.

August 14, 2022 marks 75th Independence Day of Pakistan. This year also marks the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Mauritius. Therefore, to celebrate these two milestone events and to promote cultural linkages and people to people contact between our two countries, the High Commission is organizing ‘Pakistan Week 2022’ from September 2 – 8, 2022. The activities are spread over week-long celebrations including an Essay Competition, Pakistan Film Festival, a friendly Cricket Match, a Sufi/Qawali night, Painting & Photographic Exhibition, Pakistan Food Festival and a Musical Concert. These events will offer, our Mauritian brothers and sisters, an opportunity to appreciate and enjoy Pakistani culture, art, music, sports and cuisine all in one week. It is hoped that this event while standing as a testament to the long-standing and highly cordial ties between both countries, serves as a platform to further build on the yet untapped potential of greater strategic cooperation and people to people linkages between both countries.

“Pakistan – Mauritius dosti Paindabad”

Muhammad Arshad Jan
High Commissioner of Pakistan to Mauritius

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