KARACHI: Hope and expectation filled the air. If some expressed willingness to make profitable deals, others simply said the event had changed their perception about Pakistan. Another group of participants appeared to have made a good beginning by receiving initial pledges.
Aside from promoting trade, the sixth Expo Pakistan was organised with another, perhaps a more important objective in mind: to highlight the soft image of Pakistan which over the past few years has come to be associated with terrorism and militancy.
Strict checking at the entry gates and presence of a large number of security guards on the premises of the Karachi Expo Centre and around the beautiful building were proof of the threats that Pakistan unfortunately faces today.
An official of the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan, the government-run body that hosted the Oct 20-23 event, laid emphasis on this aspect of the exhibition.
“We invited 52 countries to Expo Pakistan. Hundreds of business and official delegates flew into Pakistan from different parts of the world to have first-hand information about Pakistan at a time when opinion about our country in the outside world is far from satisfactory.
So, having such a huge number of foreign visitors at the exhibition is no mean achievement,” said Rizwan Tariq, a spokesman for the TDAP.
But a trade expo is after all a trade expo, always aimed at making money and promoting business no matter under what circumstances it is organised. The same happened with Expo Pakistan.
A report in this newspaper on Oct 23 quoted TDAP chief executive Tariq Iqbal Puri as saying that visiting foreign buyers had placed orders worth $517 million and signed 15 memoranda of understanding with their Pakistani counterparts in different sectors. A Polish company deserves special mention, which is reportedly in negotiations with a local IT firm to reach a deal tentatively estimated at $1 billion.
The TDAP spokesman`s remarks were endorsed by a Moroccan company official with whom this correspondent talked to in one of the halls showcasing Pakistani products.
“Before coming to Pakistan I did not think Pakistan is producing so many things in different fields,” said Lefhal Jaouad, director general of his Rabat-based firm.
So did this exhibition change his perception? he was asked.
“Of course. My perception about Pakistan is different now. I think I am going to explore the possibility of doing business in Pakistan,” replied Mr Jaouad, whose Itar Global Trading Negoce Industriel company deals in chemicals.
Accompanying him was a businesswoman representing her Ste Kaoutara Negoce Industriel firm. El Atir Aicha, the director commercial, said stationery and office equipment had attracted her and she would try to ascertain whether a favourable agreement could be made with some Pakistani exporters.
The exhibition was spread over a number of halls displaying different products. There were also a couple of foreign countries that had set up their stalls at the exhibition.
The person at one of Pakistan`s leading manufacturers of wall and floor tiles appeared upbeat about the show. Asked about the response his company had received from importers, Muhammad Hatim Khan said: “Delegates from Bahrain, Britain, UAE and Japan have visited our stall and gathered a lot of information about our products. I am sure some of them will actually place orders.”
However, not everybody had the same views.
M.A. Shahzad, who was present at a carpet stall, told this correspondent that hardly any visitor had showed any interest in carpets.
And then there was a Russian company which, despite its willingness to make fresh deals, complained about an earlier contract with a local firm that he alleged had failed to produce expected results.
“We are looking forward to having a solid partnership in Pakistan. We want to import fresh fruit and vegetables. We are ready to import dozens of containers because we have a huge demand to meet,” said Ryakhovskiy Mikhail, deputy general manager of Soyuzpromcontract company.
But even as Mr Mikhail spelled out details of a deal which promises good revenue to the national exchequer in export duties, he stressed that fair play and trust were the key to making such ventures a success. In reply to a question, he recalled a contract that a Karachi-based firm had made with his company, but did not meet the terms and conditions, forcing him to be extra-cautious in finalising new contracts. Hence his emphasis on trust and fair play.