Pakistan hopes for US action on trade zones

Reuters | 7 August 2007

Pakistan hopes for U.S. action on trade zones

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Pakistan wants the United States to pass legislation soon that would allow it and Afghanistan to export some textiles, clothing and other goods without paying U.S. duties, a top Pakistani official said on Monday.

"We discussed the upcoming reconstruction opportunity zone legislation that I hoped would be tabled soon in Congress after the break," Pakistan Commerce Minister Humayun Akhtar Khan told Reuters after talks with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab. "I think this is a good initiative of the United States government to handle some of the counter-terrorism issues."

The Bush administration has pledged to work with Congress on legislation to create job opportunities in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan that are hotbeds of militant activity.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf personally pressed President George W. Bush for the "reconstruction opportunity zones" when the two leaders met in Islamabad in March 2006.

Past efforts to provide duty-free treatment for Pakistan goods have run into stiff opposition from U.S. textile groups, which fear the trade benefits would cost American jobs.

The proposed reconstruction opportunity zones are similar to a program which provides U.S. duty-free access for certain Egyptian and Jordanian goods made in designated "qualified industrial zones" with Israeli components.

Later this month, U.S. Commerce Department officials will lead a trade mission to Afghanistan’s International Carpet Fair in Kabul in a separate effort to bolster bilateral trade.

On another issue, Khan said he and Schwab agreed to boost efforts to finish nearly three-year-old talks on a bilateral investment treaty.

"They’re not moving forward as fast as we would like," Khan said. "I promised we’d focus and see if we can make progress."

Khan said he also assured Schwab that Pakistan was taking steps to boost protection of intellectual property rights in response to concerns raised by U.S. drug companies.

The two trade officials also discussed prospects for countries to reach agreement on a new world trade deal on the basis of draft texts released last month in Geneva.

"I am optimistic," Khan said.

While countries have expressed concerns about details of the texts, none of the major negotiating partners have rejected them outright, he said.

source: Reuters