Pakistan’s trade is falling. Multifarious internal and global factors are key determinants. Unfortunately, while international commodity prices are dropping, Pakistan’s cost of doing business is also increasing. And as our comparative economic advantage thins, so too concomitantly the world’s value and requirements of standards rise higher by the day. Today’s international buyer is discerning and socially and ethically conscious. With a plethora of products on store shelves, purchase is linked to ethical choices and the buyer’s collective perception of a particular country and its image. This in turn is influenced by effective country branding at a global level. Nation branding is one of the key tools to enhance inward investment, boost exports, attract tourism, and gain influence in international affairs. Well-marketed brands reflect the culture, art, and ethical ethos of their countries. They erase negative stereotypes and restore the identity and self esteem of its citizens. Country branding is not new. Today the speed at, which ideas travel however make it paramount in terms of global and economic positioning. Governments throughout the world are now aggressively developing nation or country branding. Strong examples are Thailand with its amazing Thailand images of turquoise beaches and lovely fishing boats. South Africa is alive with possibilities. In Bolivia, “the authentic still exists”. Scotland is the best small country in the world. Today’s Great Britain was once Cool Britannia with Geri Halliwell sporting Britpop in her iconic red white and blue Union Jack dress. This year in June, the International Yoga Day had the world ‘backward bending’. It was nationalistic branding at a global scale. Following the success of the Incredible India campaign that gift-wrapped India in glittering images of history and culture, Nardendra Modi, now did more than just “reclaim yoga” from the world. He set its eyes on the economics of culture-trade in the $27 billion yoga paraphernalia industry that India sought to capture. In its yoga campaign, India was not afraid to spend money to earn money. It was not afraid to package its country in glittering images of Incredible India-a far cry from the chaos and cacophony, the reality of life in the crowded streets of Bombay and Calcutta. Following the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, Malaysia launched its Malaysia – Truly Asia strategy, tapping into the unique positioning of its country as a historical hub for international trade and travel. The success of the award-winning promotion has now filtered down through the Third Industrial Master Plan to include an initiative to facilitate branding for domestic firms as well. Research and experience validate the efficacy of Country branding as “the strategic self-presentation of a country with the aim of creating reputational capital through economic, political and social interest promotion at home and abroad”. Given the success that countries have had with nation branding, one naturally questions where Pakistan positions itself in this context? Unfortunately, our failure to market a national self-image leaves a vacuum for others to fill in and define. We are thus at the mercy of forces outside our control that would brand us as good or bad to suit their own interests. The BBC World Service Country Rating Poll 2014 a survey, which views how countries are viewed globally, identifies Pakistan as one of the most negatively rated countries in the world. With the exception of Turkey and Indonesia, only 16 percent of the global population harbour positive views about our country. And, since trade is about trust and reliability, an adverse reputation obviously has economic implications. Pakistan has umpteen treasures to offer the world. Besides its magnificent history and a topography crossing varied geographical terrains, Pakistan can boast of textiles par excellence, a fast developing engineering sector and an agricultural base rooted in ancient time. We have long suffered from a failure to project ourselves consciously and sustainably. Images of misery and violence and terrorism have overshadowed the richness of our culture, the potential of our manufacturing sector and the latent strength of our economic and political future. Trade is about choices. In today’s tech savvy world, branding is a strategy for competitive advantage. Consumer choices are deeply rooted in emotional connections to the country of origin, to the image that a nation projects of itself and of its product. When consumer values are shaken, exports suffer. A prime example is the huge economic loss that hit Bangladesh after the factory fires of 2013 when issues of labour conditions tinted the reputation of its otherwise competitive products. Smart country branding is important because it allows for successful transference of its positive image to its exports and thus facilitates greater purchases. It is a proven fact that Made in Labels influence customer preferences and countries with strong branding strategies work towards their own economic advantage. A strong country brand permeates through to consumer brands – if we think highly of a country overall, we are more likely to?think highly of brands associated with it. This also works particularly well with direct investment and tourism. Pakistan cannot afford to close its eyes to its badly affected and downward spiralling self-image. That is not to say that we should not work on value addition and market competitiveness. But, that we should concomitantly also learn good marketing strategies and follow ethical and social good practices. And, reflect and market these initiatives effectively. Today’s Pakistan’s much acclaimed GSP plus status is closely linked to strict social compliances. A review of Pakistan’s performance will be on the cards at the end of this year. Developing nations tout the export efficacy of their distinct cultures and their creative crafts. While the world has realised that export is not simply about products and price, we are still lost in the debate of whether national branding and export growth correlate? Do culture and fashion lend themselves to export promotion? Does the intangible support the tangible? It is time, to get out of this time warp, this ceaseless debate, to realise that trade is about perceptions as much as prices. Pakistan needs to reinvent itself, for pride as much as profit. A study done by the International Trade Commission on the correlation between branding and export competitiveness stated, that positive national image – the combined picture of a nation’s history, art, culture, social morality and export products- is an essential ingredients for export and investment promotion. “National branding consists of developing an image and communicating it, both internally and externally, based on a country’s positive values and perceptions that are relevant to export development.” Last year, Trade & Development Authority of Pakistan took a grand single country exhibition to India. The trade show was branded as Aalishan Pakistan. Pakistan’s best brands displayed the wealth of their export products and sales rocketed. Sufi music resonated on India radios. Art and fashion and culture found expression in the TDAP pavilions. It was a microcosm of everything beautiful that Pakistan had to offer the world. What TDAP was striving to do, besides the sale and orders that it was targeting, was to showcase Pakistan’s distinctive characteristics, to forge our reputation in a manner that fired the consumers imagination, stirred the emotions and captured the essence of what made our country truly unique. The catchy logo “Aalishan Pakistan” encapsulated the magnificence of our land and the show took Delhi by storm. Can this logo, hereto used as a slogan for a TDAP single country show, be marketed as a global brand for Pakistan? For Aalishan goes beyond the perfection of our textiles, our sports and surgical products, the distinctiveness of our foods. Aalishan lies at the heart of the nobility that the Pakistani people are capable of. It is the selflessness of countless, invisible doctors who offer free medical aid to our people. Aalishan is the philanthropy of the business community reflected in charity hospitals and schools and free hot meals provided throughout the land. Alishan is Pakistan’s family values reflected in the millions of dollars worth of remittances sent back home from the sweat of toiling fathers and sons. Aalishan is Pakistan’s distinct heritage, but more than that, Aalishan is Pakistan’s potent and burgeoning youth. We are the 188 million strong that can rock the world with a country brand that proclaims our eminence globally. It is now time to show the world what we make and, are made of. It is time to present Aalishan Pakistan in all its multifaceted magnificence. Branding however, needs ownership and buy in and national branding needs total ownership from all sectors of society. While the TDAP and the Ministry of Commerce may herald such a programme, its success ultimately depends on each and every Pakistani, embracing the idea, touting the philosophy and “wearing the green with pride”.