Argument

The Ties That Bind

The Ties That Bind

The U.S.-Pakistan relationship has weathered more than its fair share of crises over the years. The experience has taught each of us — and our respective governments — that we have much work to do. Over the last few months, we have made real progress on issues critical to the interests of both of our countries. And we are meeting this week in Washington to carry forward this effort, focusing especially on expanding our economic relations. It is clear to us that trade, investment, and private sector growth are the future of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

The United States remains the largest and most open economy to trade and investment in the world, and Pakistan is a large and emerging market with a growing class of entrepreneurs. Two-way trade between Pakistan and the United States totaled nearly $5 billion in 2011, spurred in part by the preferential access many Pakistani products enjoy under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences Program, which provides preferential market access to 128 countries and territories, including Pakistan. The United States purchases nearly 20 percent of Pakistan’s total exports — more than any other country in the world. Major U.S. companies such as Citicorp, Proctor & Gamble, Boeing, Pepsico, and Coca-Cola are already operating large and growing ventures in Pakistan.

U.S. development assistance has broadened our economic ties. The United States’ commitment to supporting Pakistan’s development is enshrined in the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, popularly known as "Kerry-Lugar-Berman," and focuses on areas critical to economic growth — from energy to infrastructure, health to education. U.S. assistance is helping alleviate severe electricity shortages in Pakistan, adding a total of 900 MW to Pakistan’s grid by the end of next year. U.S. assistance has built more than 400 miles of roads since 2009 in Pakistan’s underdeveloped border regions, generating more business activity. Pakistan benefits from one of the largest U.S. government-sponsored people-to-people exchange programs in the world, with programs, scholarships, and university partnerships enabling thousands of Pakistani students to study in or visit the United States. This is making a difference in the lives of many Pakistanis.

Building on this solid foundation, we believe our two governments can do more to expand sustainable economic ties. First, we have restarted a series of working groups to discuss a broad range of bilateral issues, including law enforcement, defense cooperation, economics and finance, and energy. These groups are designed to expand government-to-government discussions in the areas of our shared interests.

Second, we are taking steps together to empower Pakistani entrepreneurs. Our governments are linking American investors and Pakistani entrepreneurs, providing Pakistani business leaders access to capital and mentoring resources. We believe that investing in Pakistan’s entrepreneurs is a smart business decision.

Third, we are working to improve access to finance for growing companies. This is why the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) recently launched the Pakistan Private Investment Initiative, with strong support from the Pakistani government and private sector. USAID will partner with experienced fund managers to co-invest in promising small to medium-sized enterprises. The volume of applications from regional and international investors proves that there is substantial interest in tapping the potential of the Pakistani market.

Fourth, we are expanding our government-to-government dialogue to increasingly include the voices of businesses and civil society. That is why U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council in September with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. And it is why our two governments convened a business conference in London last month.

The foundation for meaningful and sustainable bilateral cooperation rests in part on the shoulders of our private-sector leaders and entrepreneurs. Challenges remain, including in other areas of our bilateral relationship, which our governments will need to work through together. We will continue to develop the economic ties that will ultimately define our shared stability and prosperity.