Ambassador of Switzerland to Pakistan, H.E Christoph Bubb considers Pakistan a goldmine for investors. He discusses the long-standing trade relations between the two countries and hopes for stronger bilateral and trade relations.
Emphasizing Switzerland’s enormous contribution towards rehabilitation of flood-hit and earthquake-affected areas, he says the two countries enjoy a strong bond of friendship and mutual cooperation. He talks to Blue Chip about his vision for the friendship between the two countries
Switzerland is one of the largest foreign investors in Pakistan today. What special attributes have Swiss companies seen in Pakistan to make such big investments here in the past?
Christoph Bubb: “Switzerland has been among the top five direct investors in Pakistan for many years and during the last decade, Swiss investments in Pakistan have exceeded $1 billion. Swiss companies have been present and investing in this area since before the foundation of Pakistan. Presently, more than 20 Swiss-based companies are successfully operating in Pakistan in areas of food, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, banking and quality testing. These include big names like Nestlé, Clariant, ABB, Novartis, Sika, and Roche. Moreover, Nestlé and Clariant are among the best qualified companies listed on the Karachi Stock Exchange.
Swiss companies have come to this country with a long term perspective. Pakistan is a market with a potential of 180 million people. As the economy of Pakistan is transforming from an agro-oriented economy to a more industrialised and service-oriented economy, these companies believe in a prosperous future for Pakistan and a promising market for their unique and quality products. Furthermore, investor-friendly policies in the country have helped in paving the way for their establishment and further expansion.”
What are your views on Pakistan as an investment destination for the future?
CB: “Pakistan is a country with good educational institutions capable of training competent and successful experts and scholars in every field, who can contribute significantly to its development and prosperity. Pakistan possesses important natural resources like precious metals, minerals, water, and can count on climatic conditions that open opportunities in the green energy sector. But this potential can only be realised in a positive investment climate. Substantial improvements have to be achieved in key areas such as security, good governance and energy supply.”
You have spoken of potential investment in the textile sector, particularly with regard to a transfer of technology. Can you elaborate on this?
CB: “Pakistan is one of the major producers of cotton in the world. Exports of textile products constitute a substantial part of the total exports of the country which makes the textile industry one of the strongest sectors in Pakistan. By increasing its share in high value added products, it will be able to broaden its market base worldwide. I am proud that almost all leading textile mills in Pakistan are using Swiss state-of-the-art technology, which contributes significantly to their competitiveness and efficiency.”
How do challenges, e.g. the energy crisis, illiteracy, population explosion, extremism, impact Pakistan’s investment outlook?
CB: “Statistical data indicates that foreign investments in the country are decreasing. This is due to shortcomings in the various fields mentioned before. Pakistan has a lot of potential for foreign investors, but the need of the hour is that issues hampering new investments are resolved. Illiteracy and a rapid increase in the population over the last few decades, with a higher growth rate than countries like India or Bangladesh, are making the challenges even more complex. Reducing the population growth rate would substantially ease other major problems Pakistan is facing today. The annual increase of GDP can hardly keep up with the increasing population growth.
How can trade and business dialogue between the two countries be further enhanced?
CB: “Switzerland and Pakistan have been enjoying close trade relations since the foundation of Pakistan and bilateral treaties were signed to facilitate trade. A recent remarkable step was the establishment of a Swiss Business Council (SBC) in 2008 in Karachi by leading Pakistani businessmen. SBC in collaboration with the Swiss Asian Chamber of Commerce in Switzerland is determined to promote and further strengthen bilateral trade relations. People to people contact through exchange of business delegations can also play an important role in this regard. In May 2011, SBC and the Consulate General of Switzerland in Karachi have organized a successful trip of leading Pakistani business leaders to Switzerland in order to attract further Swiss investment into the country. I am confident that these efforts and the active role played by SBC will enhance trade and investments, but improvements are required in the field of security, energy and law and order.
The Swiss also play a key role in Pakistan’s development sector. Given Pakistan’s recent challenges, can you elaborate on this?
CB: Switzerland through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has been active in Pakistan since 1966. Until 1980, SDC supported vocational education and training in the fields of agriculture, horticulture, forestry, community village development and hydropower. In the 90’s, the focus shifted to assisting small enterprises, sustainable land usage, community infrastructure, and human rights. From 2000 to 2005, SDC supported the sectors of natural resources management, human rights, governance and micro and small enterprise promotion. After the devastating earthquake in 2005, SDC shifted its assistance towards reconstruction, particularly in earthquake affected areas. Today we are concentrating maximum efforts on the northern parts of the country, particularly FATA and KPK.
What are Switzerland’s key areas of interest for development?
CB: SDC Pakistan Hindukush Program 2012-14 intends to contribute towards development in the region and to a peaceful coexistence of the people through rural livelihoods, good governance and human rights. The program will focus on improving the resilience of the most vulnerable population, especially women/children, marginalized groups and disaster-affected or conflict-affected people to cope with climate-related or conflict-related stress. Better water management and rebuilding basic rural infrastructure i.e. humanitarian aid are the core elements being focused on for development. Since the geographical focus of the Hindukush Program is on KPK and FATA, the success of this program will largely depend on the security situation in those areas.
In the wake of the devastating floods, what assistance has Switzerland given?
CB: When the devastating floods hit Pakistan in July 2010, Switzerland was one of the first countries to send a rapid response team to Pakistan and to provide food and non-food items, as well as shelter and safe drinking water to the flood-affected victims. This was done in the very early phase of the disaster. Since then, Switzerland’s humanitarian assistance has been increased substantially, focussing on reconstruction of schools, disaster risk reduction measures and water and sanitation-related projects in KPK. Additionally, it contributed above USD 11 million to the multilateral organisations towards the flood-related activities. In addition, the Swiss Solidarity foundation and other private relief organizations have received donations exceeding USD 40 million. Furthermore, ten Alouette III helicopters were donated to Pakistan for relief and rescue operations.
Regarding this year’s floods, the situation is monitored and so far, approximately USD 1 million has been reserved for assistance to the flood victims, mainly in the domains of food allocation and drinking water supply.
You have come to Pakistan at a particularly turbulent time. How has your experience been so far?
CB: Pakistani friends in New York told me that I would never have a dull moment – and they were right. What is striking is the difference between the perception of Pakistan abroad and the reality in the country. My wife and I were met with gracious hospitality and an overwhelming openness. I am also encouraged to see an active civil society taking part in the political life and contributing to moving the country forward.
You have a wealth of diplomatic experience in many different countries. What drew you to a career in diplomacy?
CB: Our last post was New York, where we spent four fascinating years. We felt that the time has come to seek an environment offering entirely new challenges and issues to deal with. Pakistan seemed to be the ideal place for such an aspiration and so far we have not been disappointed. One of the appealing elements of my profession lies in the fact that every few years one is confronted with choices and challenges, which have a considerable impact on your life. Let me also point out that my wife and I are working as a team, since numerous activities, particularly in the social, cultural and educational field are taken care of by her or in close cooperation with her.
How has your experience in Pakistan been different?
CB: Every country has its own specificities, characteristics, culture and history. The travel restrictions in the country and certain limitations in the daily life are new for us; it is my hope that Pakistan will soon be the safe place it used to be.
What is your vision for the relationship between Switzerland and Pakistan in the future?
CB: Pakistan and Switzerland have maintained good and cordial relations for many years. Switzerland enjoys a positive reputation and Swiss products are appreciated in Pakistan. Our presence has been particularly constructive in economic and development related matters. It is my desire that we can focus on trade alone, not aid.