Seminar on ‘Regional Trade and Economic Connectivity’
Speakers stress on strengthening regional trade
By Ijaz Kakakhel
ISLAMABAD: Participants at a seminar on ‘Regional Trade and Economic Connectivity’ stressed for strengthening regional and bilateral trade agreements like in developed countries, which will definitely benefit all regional countries.
In this regard the speakers also stressed for regional connectivity through roads, rail, air and other sources of communication. The seminar was arranged by the Ministry of Commerce here on Thursday and attended by representatives of both public and private sectors.
While inaugurating the seminar Federal Secretary for Commerce Zafar Mehmood stated that the promotion of regional trade is a priority of the government and the prime minister of Pakistan has declared the year 2012 as the ‘Year of Regional Trade and Economic Connectivity’. The secretary further highlighted the strategic importance of Pakistan and the role Pakistan can play as an economic hub for landlocked Central Asian Republics (CARs).
He also touched upon the trade normalisation process with India, Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) and Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC). He further stated that this seminar is the first in the series of seminars, which will be organised over the next year including one in February 2012 to develop further coordination among the stakeholders.
The secretary informed the participants South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) meeting is scheduled to be held on Feb 16, 2012 in Pakistan, which would greatly help in increasing regional trade. He also mentioned that there are some countries that are not interested in trade with other countries but overall it will benefit member countries. Trade and transportation are the basis for a meaningful and sustainable economic cooperation and regional connectivity. Pakistan attaches top priority to trade and transport-related activities in its plans and projects.
Mehmood claimed that the strategic location of Pakistan provides the government an opportunity to become a regional trade and transport hub. “We can provide easy port access for trade from the land-locked CARs with their immense energy and mineral resources.” However, this will require not only improved transport and communications infrastructure and facilities, but also further development of related industries. The secretary claimed that the process to normalise trade with India has started.
Pakistan Institute of Trade and Development Director General Asaf Ghafoor gave a presentation on trade performance of Pakistan and regional trade initiatives like SAFTA, ECOTA, ASEAN, and GCC. He said that the trade diplomacy of Pakistan has to seek better market access by addressing tariff and non-tariff measures. It has to facilitate and promote trade, investment and economic development. He also mentioned several challenges, which the country is currently confronting, which are high cost of finance, energy crisis, law and order, lack of international competitiveness, low structural transformation, lack of diversification of products and markets and many more.
A presentation was also given by the Ministry of Communications about the road infrastructure and road agreements that are in progress and operationalised. Main features of its presentation was to develop Pakistan as a hub of sub regional connectivity between high growth East Asia and resources rich Middle East, to improve regional connectivity (links with China, Afghanistan, CARs, Iran, India etc). The presenter said that improvement in the regional connectivity requires adoption of several measures, which are improvement of sea ports, road and rail infrastructure, harmonisation of trade and transport regulatory framework to remove barriers to trade and entering into regional and bilateral transit transport agreements laying down procedures for the transit traffic.
Presentations were also given on the role of the private sector, freight forwarding and logistics, and on trade and transport facilitation.
In his closing remarks, Mehmood said that the seminar and other seminars to come will play a very positive role to eliminate the disconnection between different departments in formulating a long lasting and comprehensive strategy for integration in the region.