PROUD of his country’s rich and unique cultural heritage, Pakistani High Commissioner Maj-Jen (Rtd) Talat Munir had been stocking up “reserves” of home-made gifts at his residence in Persiaran Stonor.
He would return with a load each time he visited home, and family or friends headed this way would usually get a “shopping order.”
So much that an entire room was dedicated to his collection of neatly wrapped gifts. Three years down the road, the space has been well utilised, and the gift offerings all well disbursed.
“Whenever I visit people or when friends call upon me, I usually present them with a gift from Pakistan. I thought this would be very apt, rather than just giving flowers or insignificant items.
“This is one way I have helped to promote my country in Malaysia,” the departing envoy said in a farewell interview at his high commission office.
More than just his material gifts, the friendly soldier-turned-diplomat has made a lasting contribution here in his efforts to raise his country’s profile in Malaysia.
Exports from Pakistan have increased, and according to a Pakistani survey, Malaysian consumers are placing more confidence on Pakistani products.
“Pakistani products are getting established in Malaysia with the passage of time. Our textile, leather, carpets and fruits are popular in Malaysia.
“As of now, our biggest exports to Malaysia are textiles, with cotton fabrics making up the largest category. We are also making headway in the export of linen and hosiery products to Malaysia,” he added.
The import of Pakistani leather and leather goods to Malaysia has increased by 23.92% (US$0.05mil in 2003-04 to US$1.27mil in 2004-05), and new Pakistani products are pouring into the Malaysian market.
Pigments, paints and varnishes are among the Pakistani products that can be bought off the shelf here.
“Pakistan also wants to exploit the Malaysian fruits and vegetable market, which is worth RM638mil (annually). Presently, we only have a 1% share of this market here.
“Malaysia presents us with a huge potential market for many Pakistani products,” he added.
Posted here in Sept 2003, Talat has been instrumental in overseeing an overall improvement in Pakistan-Malaysia ties, providing a perfect setting for growth in the business sector.
The proposed Malaysia-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is moving closer to reality, with the seventh round of negotiations scheduled to be held in Islamabad.
The target is to complete the negotiations by this Sept 30, ratify it by Dec 31, and make it operational by Jan 1.
“The talks have been on course since the first round began in July last year. The coming talks in Islamabad should be the final round, and we expect the deadline to be met,” he added.
The decision to move towards an FTA was made following consultations between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his Pakistani counterpart Shaukat Aziz in Islamabad last February.
Abdullah had spoken on the need to correct the current trade imbalance, which was heavily against Pakistan, calling on Malaysian businessmen to acknowledge that Pakistan had matured to become a highly diversified base of manufactured products.
In the meantime, Talat said both countries had put into force an Early Harvest Agreement, or a “mini FTA”, in October last year to facilitate trade on a 125 Pakistani and 114 Malaysian products.
During Abdullah's visit to Islamabad, he also announced that Pakistan had been accepted as a source country for labour.
Talat said Pakistani workers had been arriving in batches since, with a total of 15,000 already working here mainly in the manufacturing, construction and services sectors.
“At the start, there were some teething problems but we have overcome these. About 2,000 to 3,000 more Pakistani workers will arrive soon,” he added.
The other plans were to get Bank Islam to set up a branch in Pakistan to help stimulate the banking industry, get insurance company Takaful to venture there as well, and to assist Pakistan in the Information Communications Technology (ICT) sector.
The envoy will be leaving a satisfied man with advancements on another front as well – air links between both countries have been intensified with Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flying twice to Kuala Lumpur.
Presently, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) operates a thrice-weekly service to Karachi.
“PIA chairman Tariq Kirmani was here recently to holds talks on the possibility of having a code-sharing service with MAS, in order to have daily flights between Pakistan and Malaysia. If this can be done, Malaysia will benefit with lots of feeder traffic,” Talat pointed out.
The envoy also announced that Abdullah was among the key leaders invited to the Second World Islamic Economic Forum to be hosted in Islamabad, where up to 500 business leaders are expected to converge from Nov 5 to 7.
Abdullah will provide the opening keynote address on the theme “Enhancing Global Competitiveness and Trade Among Muslim Nations.”
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