By REBECCA TORR, Posted on » Friday, August 14, 2009
MOVES to ensure better protection of workers and bolster bilateral trade between Pakistan and Bahrain are in the pipeline, says a top Pakistani envoy.
High profile government and business visits are being planned between Bahrain and Pakistan after Eid Al Fitr, said Pakistan Ambassador Ikramullah Mehsud.
He said that it was hoped the visits would lead to the signing of a labour agreement and maybe even a Free Trade Agreement.
Visits are planned by Labour Minister Dr Majeed Al Alawi and top officials from the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry to Pakistan.
This is in addition to a visit by Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to Bahrain.
The Bahrain-Pakistan Joint Ministerial Commission will also meet in Pakistan in October or November.
"We will be seeking investment in Bahrain. We want to export more manpower and increase trade," Mr Mehsud told the GDN.
"Our trade is just $200m (BD75.6m) per annum but we could increase this.
"We are looking at a memorandum of understanding (MoU) or even a Free Trade Agreement."
He said an agreement would help facilitate the many investment opportunities in Pakistan, particularly in agriculture, coal and gas.
Pakistan's policies were very attractive, he said, because foreign investors were allowed to take 100 per cent of their profits home.
"Over the last three years we have had problems in Pakistan but before that we had good foreign investment and a 7pc annual growth rate," he said.
"There have been partnerships with Bahrain, but not on a large scale."
Mr Mehsud said he was looking at helping to establish in Bahrain an exhibition centre of Pakistani products, such as handicrafts, construction materials and electronics.
He had set up a trade house when he was ambassador to Tajikistan before coming to Bahrain and it worked well.
"I want to get different chambers in Pakistan and encourage them to open an exhibition centre with their products," said Mr Mehsud.
The ambassador hoped Dr Al Alawi's visit would result in a labour agreement that would ensure greater transparency in the recruitment of Pakistani workers.
He said there are about 60,000 Pakistanis in Bahrain and about half of them are workers.
"This (agreement) would ensure the rights of workers and it's also good for employers," said Mr Mehsud.
"It's to make sure they are paid properly and brought through proper channels."
The ambassador also applauded Bahrain's move to scrap the sponsorship system, adding that it would ensure rights of workers were protected and improve Bahrain's image. He said it was a bold step and that other Gulf countries would hopefully follow suit.
"Some workers may have been on the same salary for 10 years so now they can say to their employer, raise my salary or I'll leave," said Mr Mehsud.
"It's a bold step but Bahrain is a pioneering state. You see this in politics where changes are being made and members of the Ruling Family are also making changes.
"It's time for change and Bahrain is leading the way. The reforms will increase the country's reach in the international community. There may be difficulties in the first few years but as the system gets defined it will be advantageous to Bahrain."
Regarding the embassy's new BD1m premises, which is being built near the Oman Embassy, he said construction had started in April last year. It is due to be completed by October and the embassy will move in November.
Mr Mehsud was speaking ahead of Pakistan Independence Day which falls annually on August 14. The embassy will be celebrating the event at its premises in new Zinj at 7.30am on Friday.
The event will include a flag-hoisting ceremony followed by performances by children.
All members of the Pakistani community are invited to attend.