Parakrama Dissanayake

Managing Director of Aitken Spence
Sri Lanka

Could you give us an overview of Pakistan’s economic output, post COVID-19 and expectations for the coming years?

As in many countries, COVID-19 has had an impact on our economy as well but thankfully the damage has been limited in our case. Despite the pandemic, we managed our economy well because we didn’t shut down the country, but rather went with strategic shutdowns, avoiding an all-out lockdown – this is known as a ‘smart lockdown’. As per our figures, the growth rate in the coming years is projected to be 3.9%. IMF too has revised its figures and agreed to our projections. Moreover, countries like Pakistan, have actually gained in trade instead of losing so we believe that our economy will show much growth in the future.

In recent months, top Pakistan leaders have heralded a foreign policy shift from geopolitics to geo-economics, Islamabad wants to strengthen ties with its South and Central Asian neighbors to foster more trade and investment. Recent developments with China, Afghanistan underscored the difficulty of this transition. Could you give us an insight into Pakistan’s foreign policy, considering recent happenings in the region?

Pakistan has been at the center of what is happening in the region because of our location, so, our entire focus was on geopolitics. But now the present government has decided that we need to shift our focus to geo-economics. So, all our policies are geared towards economic gains from our geopolitical location. We link to the rest of the world with Central Asia and for that Afghanistan and the recent developments there are crucial.

The Foreign Minister of Pakistan is making tours of regional countries. He’s been talking to different political leaders; the Prime Minister is also in contact with several European and regional leaders. And we are trying to coordinate our policies with the rest of the world. Especially the countries who are the stakeholders in Afghan peace and want an inclusive government in Afghanistan that respects human rights, including the rights of women.

Presently, the statements that are coming from the Taliban are very encouraging. And we hope that these statements are followed through and implemented. This will not only be beneficial for the people of Afghanistan, but also, for the people of the entire region. And, after Afghanistan, it is going to be Pakistan which will benefit from this much-needed peace and stability.

Pakistan is strategically located to become Asia’s premier trade energy and transport corridor. It is also the gateway to the energy rich Central Asian states, financially linked with Gulf states and economically advanced Far-Eastern diverse. As a major maritime hub in the region, where do you see space for international cooperation here?

By peace in Afghanistan, energy from Central Asia could flow through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea and onwards to Europe and other parts of the world. And at the same time, CPEC, China Pakistan Economic Corridor, that too is very important for us, because it will provide us opportunities to trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia. Our political location is important for our geo-economics.

Nowadays, the IT and BPO sector is so important. These enterprises are base of agility, Restylane and constant for superior quality. What do international companies need to know about these IT sector to play high in their list of international opportunities?

Recently, Pakistan has come up with a policy of putting up Special Technology Zones – STZs. These zones will have a new set of incentives that are specifically geared to invite investment in IT sector. The aim is provide an enabling environment to businesses so they can provide IT solutions and therefore actively participate in the development of local IT industry. The legislation is under process, and this will have a very significant effect on Pakistan’s IT exports, providing a very lucrative choice for big IT companies to invest in Pakistan. And it will also, at the same time, help develop the IT talent in the country.


How is Brexit affecting Pakistan’s relations with the UK and with Europe?

With the Brexit, naturally, UK has started trade arrangements directly with Pakistan. In the past, UK was part of our ongoing GSP plus mechanism with European Union. But now, after the Brexit, UK will make these arrangements directly with Pakistan. So, I think talks on these aspects are probably ongoing. Under the GSP plus initiative over the last five years, our exports to European Union countries have doubled the EU has also benefitted and their exports have also significantly increased.

What assets does Pakistan has in order to attract the interest of companies or businesses from your point of view? What are the main sectors at this right moment?

As per the investment opportunities, tourism sector is a great investment opportunity. Right now, our domestic tourism market has grown a lot. We need facilities in our northern areas, we need facilities in the South where the beaches are. Tourism has been made a priority as it has untapped potential.

You just told us you’ve been ambassador in Netherlands before, you’ve had a broad experience in different locations such as Beijing, Washington, Jakarta, Birmingham, you’ve been all over the world representing Pakistan. What do you feel most proud of in all these years of serving your country?

It’s always an honor to serve your country. My last posting was in Netherlands. And I’m happy to have served there because under my watch, my team managed to almost double the exports of Pakistan to Netherlands from only $683 million when I joined office to $1.2 billion when I left. So, crossing the billion dollar mark itself was a huge milestone and achievement. I also had the honor of being the first focal person for the CPEC when I was the Deputy Chief of Mission in Beijing and concluding the framework agreement on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

What would be your simple and final message to our people who doesn’t know as much as you do about Pakistan. How would you like to encourage them to go visit and invest in Pakistan?

Well, Pakistan has been in the news all the time. But at times, the media doesn’t portray us the way Pakistan is. One has to really land in Pakistan and experience the interaction with Pakistani people, to really make a decision about what Pakistan has to offer. Pakistan is a great country; it has a population of over 220 million with majority of it being young. So, it’s an asset for any investor to have such a young population. Plus, we are located at the gateway to Central Asia, our neighbors are China, Iran, Afghanistan and beyond, providing great business opportunities. On the other side, we are near the Gulf. So, that too, is a big market for any company to put their production facilities in Pakistan. The policy is to provide you opportunities to invest in Pakistan, bring in all the machinery equipment at zero duty- zero tax rate, and you can also repatriate your profits. And at the same time, you can employ the local population, which is cheaper compared to other countries in the region. I would say we provide great opportunities for investment to people who are interested.