| Updated at: 1922 PST, Friday, September 10, 2010|
BRUSSELS: EU diplomatic chief Catherine Ashton led calls on Friday for Europe to grant special exemptions from trade tariffs to Pakistan as part of a wide-ranging aid programme following disastrous floods.
The European Union's top overseas envoy urged foreign ministers holding weekend talks in a Brussels palace to "link together" policies from humanitarian aid to trade, to offset floods that have turned some 21 million lives upside down and so far killed 1,760 people.
The Pakistani people "need the capacity to develop their economic platform, through trade," Ashton said on arrival at the weekend retreat, demanding a "political and economic approach" to aid.
Ashton was speaking as Belgian EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht outlined a proposal by the bloc's day-to-day executive to lift tariff barriers on 13 types of textile product, designed to kick-start an economic fightback.
"The commission has outlined to us a number of trade options, on how to help get the Pakistan economy back on track. We cannot stand on the sidelines," said Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere.
"The question on how we'll do it we will decide moving forward," he said, adding that the issue had been passed up to foreign ministers.
While the bid to offer temporary preferential treatment to Pakistan caused Italian consternation, according to an EU source, the list of products that would benefit was drawn up specifically to try and avoid areas where major EU or global competitors would feel threatened, according to an EU source.
Some 25 million euros of annual benefits to Pakistan through this mechanism "seems the most likely scenario," he said, and after ministerial talks got under way, hopes rose that the unusual deal could be agreed during the afternoon.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said on arrival for their talks that he would be "arguing to help Pakistan," a "key country" in all foreign policy matters.
Luxembourg's Jean Asselborn likewise said he thought "we should combine" humanitarian aid with trade incentives.
Europe has been criticised by humanitarian organisations for struggling to produce a collective position on Pakistan, with Britain and Germany pushing hard for urgent extra help by way of trade concessions.