7th Annual General Meeting of Pakistan-France Business Alliance held on Tuesday April 6, 2021 through Zoom Video Conferencing.

The PFBA Director Finance Mr. Riaz Siddiqui presented the 7th audited accounts for the year ended December 31, 2020 as a corporate entity registered with the Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) under Section 42 of the Companies act, 2017 limited by guarantee.

PFBA Director Finance Mr. Riaz Siddiqui

Mr. Raiz briefly explained the audited accounts of PFBA 2020 by summarizing PFBA’S sources of income, which is primarily through subscription income received from Members, sponsorship income during Trade Performance Awards and income from Advertisements. He added that PFBA did not hold its flagship event the Trade Performance Award last year due to COVID19 pandemic, resulting negatively impacting our financial position in 2020. He further added that the Board of Directors of PFBA have taken certain corrective measure in order to balance the accounts and show an improved balance sheet for 2021. The Finance Director confidently assured the Members that financial result for 2021will be better than the year under review provided all things being equal e.g. there is some noticeable relief from COVID19.

PFBA Chairman / CEO Mr. Jamil Hamdani

Mr. Jamil Hamdani, Chairman/C.E.O of PFBA, welcomed the members at the seventh AGM of PFBA via ZOOM and thanked them for making it convenient to attend despite the pandemic. He added that we are optimistic that the next AGM will be held in a more congenial atmosphere, as always, in a five star hotel as per past practice. InshAllah
As is customary the Chairman/CEO talked about the economy. He said that the present government would be completing its 3 years in office in a few months. The economic challenges before it were daunting. Pakistan’s economy has always been vulnerable to all shocks whether natural disasters, regional tensions, rise in oil, utility and food prices etc. The shock in the shape of Covid-19 pandemic was expected to have a far-reaching negative impact on Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan has sustained this shock in a far better way than expected. It goes to the credit of the Government(especially the State Bank of Pakistan for taking timely actions) and the business community of the country, which is the mainstay of our economy, and in particular the textile sector, which has not only maintained its activity but against all odds has increased its exports in various categories. This has helped in safeguarding the jobs of thousands of workers. Notwithstanding this, the structural problems afflicting our economy remain intact: limited mobilization of internal fiscal resources, lack of diversification in exports, paucity of foreign investment, and absence of restructuring of public sector companies entailing huge losses.

He further added that we can take positives from the improvement of our balance of trade and the reduction in current account deficit, but the harsh truth remains that these improvements may not be long term. Our dependence on foreign lenders needs to reduce drastically. Our total external debt reached a record high of 113.8 billion US Dollars in September 2020 as compared to 96.11 billion US Dollars in October 2018. Although it has come down from double digit, Pakistan’s inflation rate remains high. It is expected that it will be 8.3 % in the fiscal year 2020-21.

Owing to time constraints, the Chairman addressed the main objective of PFBA as a bilateral business forum i.e. to encourage and enhance the promotion of trade and investment between France and Pakistan. Before the Covid-19 crisis adversely affected our activities since March 2020, we maintained our usual schedule. PFBA held its Trade Awards ceremony on November 29, 2019, with His Excellency Mr. Marc Barety, the Ambassador of France to Pakistan as the Chief Guest.

He further added that PFBA is also the member of CCIF (Chamber of Commerce International France), the confederation of French Chambers of Commerce across the world, for the last twenty years. We have been reinforcing our relations with it to help our member companies to identify business opportunities in France and elsewhere in French-speaking countries. We would also like to revive our exchanges with Business France and French Business Council of Dubai as soon as the COVID emergency is over.
He further added that we would continue to strive for the identification of trade, business and investment opportunities between Pakistan and France to develop the bilateral economic relations by adapting ourselves to the changed conditions. He said, he would like to emphasize the need of bringing into the fold of PFBA the French subsidiaries, as well as all Pakistani companies having trade and business relations with France, which are not yet members of PFBA. We are reaching out to them and need the assistance of the Economic Department of the Embassy of France in this regard.

Concerning the bilateral relations, he said he would take this opportunity to dwell upon a dreadful situation that affected the goodwill that has traditionally existed between Pakistan and France. This goodwill came under heavy strain due to the negative reactions in some sections of society and media on perceived rather than real hostility against Muslims in France. Some circles went to the extent of calling for the boycott of French products. Fortunately, the French side handled this situation patiently, leading to the subsidence of the entire furor. It is praiseworthy that despite some ill-advised comments based on fake news against it, France continued to implement its agenda of providing developmental aid to Pakistan. He further added that recently, the French Agency for Development (AFD) has provided a soft loan of 65 million euros to Pakistan for the safe and environment-friendly public transport project in Karachi. In a credit, financing agreement signed with the Economic Affairs Division in the beginning of March this year France will co-finance the Karachi Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system with Asian Development Bank (ADB), Asian Infrastructure Investment bank (AIIB) and Green Climate Fund (GCF). The 26.6-km transport project will integrate innovative energy and climate resilience features to enhance access to quality public transport in Karachi. Through AFD, France is also providing technical and financial support in the energy and urban development sector in Pakistan and has committed 850 million euros in financial support since 2016. He requested the Ambassador of France to associate Pakistan France Business Alliance with such events to better highlight them and inform the Pakistani public opinion about the multifarious ways France is contributing to the economic development in Pakistan.

In the question / answer session Mr. Ather M. Ansari asked the Chairman to reconfirm that due to annual rent of PFBA premises the small amount of loss appears in the financial accounts. For the benefit of all the Members, the Chairman summarized the rental issue of PFBA’S Office premises. The Chairman pointed out that after shifting from Himont Pharmaceuticals lovely office premises after two where the rent paid by PFBA was a nominal Rs. 30,000/- which represented subsidized electricity. Incidentally, Mr. Intesar Siddqui is the CEO cum major Sponsor of Himont Group of Companies with its Registered & Head Office in Lahore. He is also the Senior Vice President of PFBA Northern Chapter.

After vacating Himont’s Office PFBA had to look for alternative rental premises. We did find decent premises in DHA Phase VI but the rent was Rs. 100,000/- per month. This was not only a significant amount but the Landlord demanded one year’s advance rent and an additional Rs 100,000/- as security money. Whilst we paid the asking amount, we did not renew the lease, as the financial health of PFBA did not allow it. Hence, the Chairman Mr. Hamdani offered his premises at no cost except during the summer months when the air-conditioning was running he would be paid a nominal sum of Rs 25,000/- per month.    

PFBA Patron in Chief H.E. Mr. Marc Barety

In his address, H.E. Marc Barety commended the steps taken by the Chairman & Directors of PFBA in stemming the expenses and introduced pragmatic measures to improve the financial health of PFBA. H.E. the Ambassador was pleased to note that despite difficult times PFBA was able to induct seven new reputable corporate members and five other members in different categories. The Ambassador acknowledged the positive role PFBA was playing in promoting the bilateral trade relations between France & Pakistan. His Excellency was alive to the fact that trade between the two friendly countries during 2020/2021 will be challenging because of slowing down of business activity as a consequence of the Pandemic the world over. His Excellency appeared upbeat about the future but at the same time cautioned that we must not be oblivious of the ground realties as conditions could take a turn in the opposite directions if we failed to demonstrate maturity and judiciousness. He said that due to COVID19 pandemic, the year 2020 does not look good for economy, as Pakistan’s exports went down and our trade deficit went up.

He further added that whilst COVID19 had affected Pakistan nonetheless, Pakistani authorities took timely action and he was pleased to see that they were able to contain the spread of the pandemic despite the population showing abhorrence to follow the SOPS. The Government of Pakistan was quick to import vaccine from China, which helped. The loss of lives in Pakistan was far less when compared with countries in Europe.

The Ambassador further said even though France has always maintained a balanced approach towards Pakistan’s welfare and security; this balanced approach was indelicately bruised by the recent political cum religious events that took place in Pakistan. He also added that despite the unfortunate developments which could have been handled by the Government more dexterously, the French Agency for Development (AFD) has signed an agreement to provide a soft loan of Rs. 12.3 billion (65 Million euros) for the bus rapid transit (BRT) Red Line project in Karachi. This demonstrates the magnanimity and positive attitude of France towards Pakistan. The French government expect Pakistan to reciprocate its sentiments and refrain from issuing insensitive statements, which will convey negative signals to the general public who will react negatively, thus disturbing the peaceful business environment. Sadly, the recent events have shaken the confidence of the French multinationals companies operating in Pakistan. The ramifications of this negativity has also severely dented the bilateral relations and the soft image of Pakistan PFBA was projecting all along.

His Excellency the Ambassador reiterated that PFBA was facing real challenges not only from the Covid 19 scenario, but also due to the recent difficulties encountered by French Companies in Pakistan in marketing their products and develop their business. The biggest challenge faced by PFBA was to convince newcomers desirous of starting up new business. He also mentioned that the Economic Department of the Embassy including himself have always been committed to expand and strengthen the presence of institutional support in Pakistan.

He further said that French government have also decided to launch a Pakistan Comity of the CEEEF (French Foreign Trade Adviser) that will support the official presence of French interest in Pakistan as also help the French Business Community to get a support in their strategic investment projects by offering an access to the knowhow of already players in Pakistan. All those efforts can and must be complementary to the actions led by PFBA.

The Ambassador also encouraged PFBA to be present online by updating its obsolete and mundane website more frequently, creating the Facebook page and the twitter account, which will help PFBA, improve further its efficacy.  

PFBA Deputy Chairman / Deputy CEO Mr. Saeed Allawala

To wrap up the meeting the PFBA deputy Chairman / Deputy CEO Mr. Saeed Allawala presented a vote of thanks with special appreciativeness to H.E Mr. Marc Barety for his support towards PFBA and conveyed his best wishes for their future