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Heart breaker: US says Pakistan cannot offer much in free trade

Express Tribune, Pakistan

Heart breaker: US says Pakistan cannot offer much in free trade

By Shahbaz Rana

27 January 2012

ISLAMABAD: The United States has said that a free trade accord is too big for Pakistan as there is no match between the economies of the two countries, says a top official of the commerce ministry.

In a briefing to a National Assembly panel on Thursday, Commerce Secretary Zafar Mahmood said the US instead asked Pakistan to seek unilateral trade concessions as the free trade agreement required both countries to provide relaxations and Islamabad could not offer much to Washington.

“Big countries do not strike FTAs with small countries,” Mahmood told the NA standing committee on commerce, headed by Engineer Khurram Dastgir Khan of PML-N.

He was responding to Kashmala Tariq’s question whether Pakistan had linked opening of Nato supplies with signing of FTA.

The US offered to establish Reconstruction Opportunity Zones in militancy-hit tribal areas close to the border with Afghanistan as a unilateral concession but the Congress has yet to ratify it despite a lapse of over six years.

“No country in the world has done what Pakistan did for the US in the fight against terror, but the government has failed to trade off sacrifices with trade concessions despite raising the slogan of ‘trade not aid’,” said Kashmala Tariq of PML Likeminded Group.

Mahmood’s comments are contrary to the ground realities as Pakistan and China have signed FTA which has been working for many years. The secretary had himself told the Senate standing committee on commerce that following the free trade accord with Beijing, Pakistan’s exports increased at a more rapid pace than the rise in Chinese exports to Pakistan.

However, the trade balance was in favour of China. Had there been no FTA, the gap would have been much wider, Mahmood commented at that time.

Missing container issue drags on

In the NA commerce panel meeting, officials of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) spoke about investigations into the case of missing containers carrying Afghan commercial cargo and military supplies for Nato and US forces.

Hafiz Anees, head of FBR’s probe committee, said out of 19,000 Nato containers which were believed to have disappeared, 3,542 had been confirmed as “missing”.

Moreover, out of 157,736 US military containers, 77,884 containers have not reached border posts. Yet these containers could not be described as missing and a three-member committee was probing the matter, Anees said.

He said since 2002 the US had been given special privilege, exempting it from submitting goods declaration and the cargo was cleared through a unique system. However, “the matter has been taken up with the Foreign Office and the US may soon be asked to file goods declaration,” he added.

The standing committee expressed concern over slow pace of inquiry into the container scam. The FBR has estimated a loss of Rs55 billion in duties on commercial cargo while no assessment has been given about Nato and US containers.

A customs department official said Pakistan had also suspended supplies of US military cargo along with Nato cargo.

The standing committee summoned officials of the National Logistics Cell in next meeting to explain its role in the container scam. It also asked the FBR to give in writing which authority could give directives for blocking or unblocking of Nato supplies.