by Mushtaq Ghumman
ISLAMABAD:Commerce Minister Engineer Khurram Dastgir has said that relations with India are practically in deep freeze and situation is worsening with every passing month instead of improving due to Indian leadership’s attitude.
Commerce Minister’s comments came a few days after the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi phoned his Pakistani counterpart Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reportedly after the intervention of US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Khurram Dastgir who made relentless but fruitless efforts for a Non Discriminatory Market Access (NDMA) agreement with India expressed his views at an Iftar dinner. “It was Pakistan’s wish that the breakthrough we achieved last year should be used to move forward and normalise trade relations with India but now it looks totally impossible due to recent tone of New Delhi,” he added.
He said, the effects of Pak-India relations are also being seen on Pak -Afghanistan relations despite the fact that Pakistan extended substantial trade concessions to Afghanistan from April 2015. This implies that Afghanistan once again is playing into Indian hands.
The Commerce Minister maintained that Afghanistan did not reciprocate Pakistani concessions, adding that Pakistan is in no hurry to sign transit trade agreement with Tajikistan. Taking about discrepancy of $5 billion in bilateral trade figures between Pakistan and China, Commerce Minister said that the amount of $5 billion under-invoicing is being siphoned off by the importers, adding the Commerce Ministry can do nothing except express its concerns.
“We have started a study with the help of the World Bank to assess the financial impact of under-invoicing and over invoicing on the country’s trade. The purpose of the study which will be part of China FTA- II is that other trading partners should rely on Pakistan’s trade figures,” he continued.
Pakistan’s trade data is disputed with each trading partner because Pakistani data is manual whereas other trading partners’ data is electronic. The Minister argued that China is Pakistan’s principal import country where people have incentives to under-invoice.
However, he said that the real impact of under-invoicing will be calculated in the World Bank-funded study. He said Pakistan’s margin of preferences has eroded with China after the latter signed Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with other countries.
“Pakistan wants to restore margin of preferences with China in FTA-II and tariff of 3.5 percent will be brought down to zero,” he added. He said Chinese goods to be imported through economic corridor through Gilgit-Baltistan route will not affect Pakistani industry, adding that the industry which has not closed during the last nine years because of poorly negotiated FTAs will not suffer further.
In reply to a question, the Minister said that progress on Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States of America (USA) is zero as the bill is still pending with the Congress. Replying to a question regarding smuggling of Iranian oil into Pakistan “before the very eyes of the security agencies stationed at the border,” the Minister said there is an ongoing economic war between the security agencies and government officials of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and Balochistan.
The Commerce Minister said Pakistan wants to resolve smuggling issue with Iran amicably and for this purpose two more points of trade ie one each on North and South will be opened in addition to Taftan-Zahidan point. Dastgir said that Pakistan wants to open more entry points to facilitate trade with Afghanistan but first trade negotiations with Kabul have to make progress.
Commerce Minister stated that there were several mitigating factors that disabled the country from achieving its export target during 2014-15; he added that the new trade will policy will be realistic and limited to ensure that it is implemented. “We will issue a notification of new trade policy and on the same day the required forms will be uploaded on the website of the Ministry so that implementation on trade policy should start from the very next day,” Khurram continued.
According to the Minister, the main focus of new trade policy will be value addition, regional connectivity and export diversification.
Source: Business Recorder