Extra Ordinary Board of Directors Meeting of Pakistan-France Business Alliance held on Friday June 09, 2023 at the residence of the French Ambassador in Islamabad.

An Extra Ordinary Meeting of the Board of Directors of Pakistan-France Business Alliance was held on June 09, 2023 at the residence of the French Ambassador in Islamabad

Welcoming the PFBA Directors and Chapter Heads, H.E Nicolas Galey advised them to foster closer ties and collaboration between French businesses and the local business community. This would lead to increased trade, investment, and economic cooperation between the two countries. He further said that PFBA could serve as a platform to network, share experiences, and explore business opportunities. He was of the opinion that PFBA should be projected as a dynamic bilateral business forum interacting with various Chambers of Commerce. PFBA also needed to provide more services to its members in terms of business information. Whenever necessary, it should also make representations to the authorities on matters pertaining to trade and investment policies.

Mr. Jamil Hamdani, Chairman/CEO of PFBA thanked His Excellency Mr. Nicolas Galey, the Ambassador of France for hosting the meeting.

He informed that a Five Point Agenda was circulated well in advance of the Board Meeting. However, the French Consul General in Karachi, Mr. Alexis Chahtahtinsky, had made it abundantly clear to him at an informal dinner along with Mr. Laurent Chopiton, head of the Economic Department, on May 25, 2023 that three of the five points on the proposed agenda were not workable. These points related to the restoration of visa services in consulate, re-establishment of commercial section in Karachi and financial support to PFBA. Mr. Hamdani said that he reminded the CG that in its 32 years existence the PFBA had never sought financial aid from the French Embassy. On the contrary, PFBA had always financially contributed to various projects initiated by the consulate and the embassy. In this regard, he mentioned the generous contribution of Rupees 5 million by PFBA and some of its members to the Auditorium Project of Alliance Française Karachi. This project never saw the light of the day; thereby PFBA and the donating members lost their money. According to him, PFBA would be justified in demanding the refund of the donated amount by Alliance Française. He reminded that PFBA always responded to the consulate’s call for contributions to Bastille Day Celebrations. Since the above mentioned points of the proposed agenda were not considered acceptable, Mr. Hamdani requested His Excellency the Ambassador and Mr. Laurent Chopiton to give their point of view regarding the way forward for PFBA.

Mr. Chopiton informed that CCI France would like to see more French Companies represented in the Board of PFBA and the head of a French Company as its Chairman/C.E.O. Mr. Hamdani replied that since 2006, the Chairman/C.E.O of PFBA had always been from a French company, but Credit Agricole the French bank, headed by him since 1992 abruptly shut down its Pakistan operations in 2016. In 2014/2015, the Memorandum & Articles of Association as laid down by the Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) replaced the original constitution of the PFBA, in force since its foundation in1991. Thereafter, PFBA became a limited liability company registered with the SECP and it was required to hold fresh elections. Mr. Hamdani was elected as the first Chairman/CEO of PFBA under the new statutes. His tenure ended in 2018. In the ensuing elections, he was re-elected for a further period of 3 years. His tenure expires in the first quarter of 2024.

Mr. Chopiton also proposed renaming PFBA as Pakistan France Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Hamdani informed that PFBA would approach its auditors and request them to have its name changed with the SECP. However, he explained that there were over 20 bilateral forums but none of them was called Chamber of Commerce. Hence, PFBA should be ready to expect hurdles in this regard. Nonetheless, the feedback from auditors will help in clarifying the situation.

Mr. Hamdani reiterated PFBA’s desire to know from the Ambassador & Mr. Chopiton their expectations from PFBA for the next three years, as the current Board’s tenure was concluding in April 2024, so it was critical to understand the Ambassadors' expectations in order to prepare a roadmap .

The Ambassador emphasised having a balanced and diverse Board, based on gender parity. He called for prioritising the implementation of organizational rules and code of ethics laid down by the Chamber of Commerce International France (CCI-F). This would enhance the credibility and reputation of the organization in the local business community as well as before its international interlocutors. Failure to comply with these requirements could potentially lead to the cancellation of PFBA's membership of CCI-F.

Mr. Hamdani informed His Excellency and Mr. Chopiton that PFBA had been a member of CCI France since 2001 and it had never received such conditions from them. PFBA had often contacted CCI France for assistance in identifying businesses in France looking for opportunities in Pakistan. Mr. Hidayat Hussain, Business Support Officer of PFBA was the focal person for liaising with CCI France. Mr. Hidayat Hussain and Mr. Hamdani were invited to attend the Annual General Assembly of CCI-F in Paris from June 26 to June 29, 2023.

Mr. Hamdani informed His Excellency the Ambassador that PFBA was fully alive to his concerns regarding greater representation of French companies on the Board of PFBA. This will be addressed soonest, but Mr. Chopiton, the Economic Conselor, should also visit Karachi more often and assist PFBA in encouraging French Companies to play a greater role in PFBA and join the Board. Most of the French companies working in Pakistan were members of PFBA but only three of them were on the Board out of 16 French companies established in Pakistan.

Mr. Alexis Chahtahtinsky opined that PFBA should be more focused in providing services to its members in order to enhance their interest and involve them in the PFBA activities. He exhorted PFBA to reshape its business model for increasing its income and spending more on business events. He further advised PFBA to acquire large space for its office and hire more personnel for its operations. He also said that a permanent French-speaking staff member should be available to address international queries.

Thanking the Consul General for his valuable input Mr. Hamdani agreed with these measures but remarked that their implementation depended upon the availability of adequate financial resources.

He said that the number of members should be increased. The chapter heads must display initiative by organising get-togethers for members and non-member doing sizeable business with France. Guest speakers should be invited to speak about economy and trade. Being chapter head entailed great responsibility. Chapter heads should regularly inform PFBA secretariat of their activities

Mr. Babar Iqbal, PFBA’s Sialkot Chapter President said that the Board of Directors of PFBA should conduct regular board meetings to discuss and resolve problems within the organisation. He further said that as time passes, new challenges emerge in the industrial and economic landscape of Pakistan. Therefore, it was crucial for the Board to maintain focus and meet regularly to ensure that the organization achieved its goals according to the established roadmap timeline.

Mr. Hamdani thanked Babar Iqbal for his suggestions and hoped that in his capacity as President of the Sialkot Chapter he would implement his suggestions earnestly. Mr. Babar Iqbal committed to the Board that by the end of the year he would bring in 25 new members doing business with France.

Mr. Abdul Sattar Babar, Senior Vice-President and head of Islamabad/Rawalpindi Chapter said that PFBA should collaborate with the French embassy for revamping its business strategy. He elaborated that seeking guidance from the embassy would be beneficial in terms of achieving PFBA's objectives and goals. He requested Mr. Chopiton's assistance in guiding PFBA on how to accomplish its aims and objectives within the current business scenario of Pakistan. He also stressed the importance of having representation of French companies operating in Pakistan on the Board of PFBA.

The Chairman/CEO PFBA thanked Mr. Abdul Sattar Babar of IPSOS for his valuable input and said that PFBA always had very close relations with the Economic & Commercial Department of the Embassy. The present issues are manageable. He said that he expected all Chapter Heads to be more aggressive in achieving goals. All the Chapter Heads were highly responsible individuals holding CEO position in their respective companies and it would be unfair if the Chairman/CEO of PFBA consistently reminded them like school children of their responsibilities.

Mr. Talat Zameem, President of the Lahore Chapter was of the view that frequent B2B meetings should be arranged by PFBA with companies in France. This was necessary in order to strengthen the bilateral trade relationship and expand PFBA's membership across various industrial sectors in Pakistan. He added that B2B meetings provide a platform for businesses from both countries to connect, network, and explore potential trade opportunities.

The Chairman/CEO thanked the Lahore Chapter President for spelling out the advantages of B2B meetings, but the dilemma faced by the Lahore Chapter was its lack of growth. The President of the Lahore Chapter assured His Excellency the Ambassador and the Chairman/CEO of PFBA that henceforth the Lahore Chapter will be more vibrant and result oriented.

At the end, Mr. Jamil Hamdani thanked the Honorable Ambassador of France for playing host to the meeting. On behalf of the Board, the Mr. Jamil Hamdani assured the Ambassador that PFBA would endeavor to rectify, and alleviate the concerns highlighted by Mr. Laurent Chopiton.