This year the UK and Pakistan celebrate 70 years of friendship between our two countries. Whilst reflecting on the deep and enduring partnership that we have forged, it’s also an opportunity to look ahead to our shared future. The UK and Pakistan are firm friends: trade is an important part of this friendship and of our future together.
Pakistan is a market to be taken notice of. The very young and fast-growing population is already around 190 million. A middle class is emerging here numbering tens of millions — far bigger than the entire population of many countries. The economy has stabilised over recent years and remains consumer-driven. The bullish Pakistan Stock Exchange has consistently outperformed its regional peers in recent years. Of course there are challenges to doing business here. Protection of intellectual and other property rights is one example; consistency around tax regimes is another. But I know that business leaders and government ministers are committed to improving the operating environment, including reducing the time and bureaucracy involved in registering new companies. This will make Pakistan a more attractive, profitable place in which to do business. We strongly encourage this work to support genuinely market-driven, and hence sustainable, economic development.
There are already over 120 British companies operating here, across a range of sectors — including infrastructure, consumer goods, banking, energy, education and pharmaceuticals. Global British brands such as Unilever, GSK, Standard Chartered Bank, Shell, Reckitt Benckiser and Oxford University Press are represented here in Pakistan. We were also delighted this year to announce Tesco’s partnership with Alpha Supermarket. Our annual bilateral trade is now over $1.5b. We are committed to building on this and encouraging more British companies to do business here. The UK’s trade team in Pakistan is growing in line with the opportunities in this important emerging market. The team proactively advertises opportunities to British businesses; it also provides a “matchmaking” service to put British and Pakistani companies in touch with each other to pursue commercial deals. The trade team works very closely with other UK teams to support the Government of Pakistan on economic development, improving the business environment, on education, vocational skills and many other issues.
The UK foreign secretary, development secretary and home secretary have all visited Pakistan over the past few months. They all talked about trade. British firms have much to offer Pakistan, including in the fields of education, healthcare, defence and security, engineering, and professional services such as law, accountancy, project management and architecture — the UK-designed and project managed Emporium Mall in Lahore is one of many examples. And financial services is another British strength. There are dozens of UK banks that offer Islamic financial services and iconic buildings such as the Shard in London are increasingly being financed through Islamic-compliant products. The Lord Mayor of London visited Pakistan in January to explore opportunities for UK companies.
Both he and his city trade delegation were already discussing their next visit within 48 hours of arriving in Karachi. I also look forward to welcoming Trade Minister Greg Hands to Pakistan in the near future, building on his conference in London this week with the Pakistani High Commissioner to London, Chinese Ambassador to London and British High Commissioner Thomas Drew and over 20 British companies. Trade with our European neighbours is important, and will always remain so. But we are very clear we want to increase our bilateral trade with the fastest growing export markets in the world.
With Pakistan, we have a shared history, a common language, similar consumer tastes and the same eye for quality: it’s no coincidence I chose to have my wedding dress made here in Pakistan. Our shared history paves the way for a stronger, closer future trading relationship to the mutual benefit of both of our countries.