Tuesday February 07, 2023

Country perception

December 01, 2022

LAHORE: It is a pity that many remarkable companies in the country are suffering because of the bad perception of Pakistan abroad. As the saying goes that company perception cannot be better than country perception.

Countries with bad human rights records have managed to convince the world of their soft image. The Indian government faced more insurgency in Kashmir, Nagaland and Assam than in Pakistan, but Indian diplomatic efforts and the lobbyist they hired make these insurgencies and human right violations an issue to tackle terrorism.

We are weak on the diplomatic front and have failed to highlight the life that foreign nationals working in Pakistan are enjoying. There are hundreds of foreign nationals residing in Pakistan for over a decade and moving freely in the cities they live.

Our economy is paying a heavy price for the perception of the country losing many opportunities to make a mark in the global markets and is currently dependent on old established foreign buyers that too demand heavy discounts to continue.

Before 9/11 most textile and clothing buying houses were stationed in Pakistan. These buying houses placed orders with Indian and Bangladeshi textile exporters from here.

After 9/11, most shifted to Singapore, Hong Kong or Dubai. After a while these buying houses now operate mostly from India and Bangladesh. Pakistani entrepreneurs have redoubled their efforts to fetch new orders in textiles, engineering, pharmaceuticals and services sector in products where they enjoy both quality and price advantage.

In fact, some of the entrepreneurs traveling abroad in search of new markets now first present their product samples to gain the interest of the buyers before disclosing their identity because if the identity is disclosed first a large number of buyers refuse to even talk.

Pakistani exporters have proved that there is nothing wrong with businesses in Pakistan; many of them have the ability to compete with the best in the world. However, the bad image of Pakistan which is far from reality is hurting their chances. This is despite the fact that Pakistani exporters have never defaulted on timely delivery (even if they have to airlift consignments at their own cost). The quality of goods are inspected by the buyer's agent before shipment. The buyers take advantage of pseudo bad perception of Pakistan and buy our products at discount. Life in Pakistan is as anywhere else. Even during peak of terrorist attacks the factories operated normal, and the service sector continued to provide excellent services.

Pakistan is gradually winning back lost markets. Buyers are now placing orders with Pakistani apparel manufacturers.

We have seen some drop in orders but this time it was due to the global recession. Our competing economies are suffering equally.

In the past, power and energy issues were Pakistan specific, now the entire world is facing issues. The energy and power rates in India and Bangladesh are almost equal to those in Pakistan. Besides textiles, Pakistan’s auto-parts industry is fully geared to make substantial inroads in the European and US markets. The only handicap in this regard is the negative opinion of the foreign buyers about Pakistan.

Pakistan’s pharmaceutical industry is on the stage but is waiting for a better regulatory regime. As health issues are impacting all countries a little push to the pharma sector could pay rich dividends.