EU agrees trade-linked aid package for Pakistan
Brussels (AFP) Sept 16, 2010
European nations struck a deal on Thursday to ease barriers to Pakistani traders in a bid to help the flood-ravaged country.
Foreign ministers agreed to offer "ambitious trade measures" in moves designed to help Islamabad battle Islamist extremism.
The details, a source said during summit talks in Brussels, would be worked out next month when the European Commission would come up with proposals on individual tariffs.
British Prime Minister David Cameron led calls for EU partners to offer "ambitious trade measures essential for economic recovery and growth," and left satisfied at having secured a political commitment.
The stance came as the head of the United Nations refugee agency urged the world to do far more to help Pakistan recover from catastrophic floods that have left 10 million people without shelter.
The UN is to launch a new appeal for hundreds of millions of dollars in New York on Friday.
"The severity of this crisis demands an immediate and substantial response, taking also into account the strategic importance of Pakistan's development, security and stability in the region," the EU said in its end-of-summit declaration.
Leaders of all 27 EU nations endorsed the "firm commitment to grant exclusively to Pakistan increased market access to the EU through the immediate and time-limited reduction of duties on key imports from Pakistan in conformity with WTO rules."
They also agreed to promote Pakistan's case to be granted special favours by the World Trade Organization, "provided it meets the necessary criteria" and following consultations with regional or sector rivals elsewhere such as India.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said last week that the move was designed to prevent Pakistan from degenerating into "extremism and fundamentalism."
The commission, which polices EU trade matters, suggested last week that ministers consider ditching tariff barriers on 13 types of textile product, in an effort to kick-start an economic fightback.
Those plans were not immediately backed by trade ministers.
The idea of preferential treatment also caused consternation within the industry.
earlier related report
"My hope is that the international community will understand the need and fully respond to the dramatic situation," Antonio Guterres told AFP in the northwestern town of Charsadda, where he saw aid handed out to survivors.
Pakistan's worst floods in history have affected up to 21 million people and left 10 million without shelter. More than eight million people are reliant on aid handouts just to survive.
The United Nations is to launch a new appeal for funds in New York on Friday, although UN figures show that donors have met only about two-thirds of an initial appeal for 460 million dollars issued on August 11.
"All entities working in Pakistan, including the United Nations and government of Pakistan need much stronger support from the international community," said Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
"I would say that the international community is not doing enough, particularly in view of the level of devastation."
In Charsadda, an AFP reporter saw some 200 men and women queuing up at a UNHCR distribution point to receive quilts, mats, buckets and soap; and locals starting to rebuild damaged homes.
"My house, crop and cattle were destroyed by floods. I cannot support my family without help now," local resident Shamroz Khan told AFP.
Visiting US special envoy Richard Holbrooke, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also voiced calls for more action to assist with relief and recovery efforts.
"Everyone must step up and everyone must do more," Rudd told reporters in the central city of Multan, announcing additional aid of 40 million dollars that would bring Australia's overall commitment to 75 million dollars.
"The challenge is ongoing. We should be watching very carefully, the prospects and the dangers ahead."
Holbrooke said the United States, which has been the lead donor to the floods disaster and which has put Pakistan on the front line of its war on Al-Qaeda, would be providing further assistance.
"We are doing this because we care about Pakistani people," he said.
Pakistan is home to 1.7 million Afghan refugees -- 1.5 million of whom live in areas affected by the floods, which have hit terrain the size of England.
Guterres ruled out any forced repatriation of Afghans, saying the floods destroyed 16 Afghan refugee villages in Pakistan and that 15 will be rebuilt.
He visited Azakhel, the largest Afghan refugee camp that the floods destroyed. It had a population of 22,000 people. They lost everything.
"The government of Pakistan has guaranteed that despite this tragedy Pakistan will not force these refugees to go back to Afghanistan," Guterres said after meeting elders from the devastated northwestern village.
"Some Afghan families wanted to go back and we will support their repatriation, but nobody will be forced to go back to Afghanistan."
Guterres acknowledged there were "doubts" about Azakhel being rebuilt because of its "dangerous location" prone to future flooding.
"UNHCR will do everything to support the people if this Afghan refugee camp is to be relocated," he said.
Village elders said their children wanted to return to Azakhel.
"We want to come back to the village. Our children want to come back because we have deep associations with it as we have been living here for the past 30 years," village representative Sharaft Hussain told Guterres.
Nearly two months after the floods first struck, Azakhel is still a wreckage of flattened mud-brick houses and rubble. Stagnant flood waters emitted a foul smell, an AFP reporter said.
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