ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Britain is in talks to boost trade and security cooperation with Pakistan, Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday, part of London’s efforts to improve trade links with emerging market countries.
Britain has been seeking to bolster global trade ties following its June referendum vote to leave the European Union, with the government seeking to broaden relations with fast-growing economies outside Europe.
On a visit to Pakistan, Johnson said talks were progressing on plans to increase annual trade beyond 2.5 billion pounds per year.
“Consider the size of the Pakistan economy, how fast it’s growing, look at the size of the UK economy, we could do so much better,” Johnson said in Islamabad before meeting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The two countries have had strong cultural ties since Pakistan gained independence from Britain in 1947, with more than one million people of Pakistani origin currently residing in Britain.
Pakistan’s sputtering economy has rebounded in recent years, helped by improved security in the country, and growth is expected at just over 5 percent this fiscal year, the highest rate since 2008.
Economic expansion is set to increase due to a $54 billion investment from China in a network of road, rail and energy projects that will form an economic corridor linking western China with Pakistan’s Arabian Sea port at Gwadar.
However, despite improved security Islamist militant groups continue to pose a threat and have carried out several large-scale attacks in recent months.
Britain has also long been concerned about radicalised Islamists with links or training in Pakistan carrying out attacks on British soil.
Three of the four bombers who carried out the attacks on London transport network in July 2005 that killed 52 people were of Pakistani origin and the fourth had travelled to Pakistan before the attacks.
Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s top foreign policy official, said the two nations were discussing how to improve security cooperation.
Aziz said Prime Minister Sharif has invited his British counterpart Theresa May, who visited India this month, to travel to Pakistan next year to further boost ties.
Johnson also said the United States’ President-elect Donald Trump was right to urge members of NATO to pay more towards the military alliance, which is heavily reliant on the United States.
Johnson urged other member nations to pay 2 percent of their budget towards defence spending.
“We need a strong NATO alliance, and I think that the president-elect is quite right to draw attention to the need to finance that alliance properly,” Johnson said.
($1 = 0.8032 pounds)
Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Kim Coghill