Brussels: Pakistan is too important for the European Union to ignore and the EU`s foreign ministers should discuss it as a priority at their next meeting, the EU`s foreign policy chief said on Thursday in a letter.
The EU sees Pakistan as a key ally in issues such as counter-terrorism and the war in Afghanistan, but has not yet translated that vision into concrete policy. Pakistani officials say the bloc has been too slow to offer broader benefits such as liberalised trade.
"It is my feeling that our relationship with Pakistan has untapped potential, including in the area of development assistance, counter-terrorism and trade," Catherine Ashton wrote ahead of an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers on September 10-11.
"I would like to propose that we include Pakistan on our agenda" for that meeting, Ashton wrote. The meeting is currently expected to discuss strategic partnerships with states such as China and India, ahead of an EU summit on the same subject on September 16.
Diplomatic sources said that the focus of the debate would be on ways to broaden EU policy to provide more support for Pakistan`s economy and long-term development.
Among the options for debate would be a call to offer Pakistan a free-trade agreement in the long term, a more immediate relaxation of import duties on a selection of key products, or medium-term entry into a preferential tariff system known as GSP+, sources familiar with the planning of the meeting said.
Ashton also proposed inviting the EU`s commissioners for trade, development and humanitarian aid to the meeting, in order to provide the full range of options for future policy.
The idea of joining up the EU`s various policy branches is the philosophy behind its new diplomatic corps, the External Action Service, which is currently being set up and which Ashton is to head.
"This is a great example of the EAS principle in action," a diplomat close to the talks said.