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Pakistan wants trade agreement with US at any cost

The News | Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Pakistan wants trade agreement with US at any cost

By Khalid Mustafa

ISLAMABAD : In a new development, Pakistan has decided to reinitiate the stalled process of technical dialogue with the US authorities to finalise the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) by December this year, The News has learnt.

“Yes, we have constituted a core group comprising representatives of the ministries concerned and attached departments and the private sector to evolve the modus operandi in such a way to seize the investment deal with the US by December this year at any cost,” confirmed Federal Minister for Investment Senator Waqar Ahmad Khan while talking to The News here on Monday.

“In case this deal materialises, then Pakistan will have three times more investment from the USA and that will really put the country on a road to sustainable prosperity,” the minister argued, adding : “This will also help Pakistan attract greater investment from other major and influential countries in the world as when the US moves to a certain country for investment, then others tend to follow as well.”

The BIT — that is essentially a chapter of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) — is being touted to help spur the US investment in Pakistan and strengthen bilateral cooperation in various fields for mutual benefit.

The dialogue process was stymied in March 2006 when both sides stuck to their rigid stances on some key issues and consequently the two countries failed to initiate the investment deal, which had originally been scheduled to take place during the Pakistan’s visit of the then US President George W Bush.

One senior government functionary who remained involved in the process of the BIT dialogue with the US said the government had this time around constituted a core group and tasked it to evolve a strategy, which must lead to clinching of the deal.

“Factually there are four outstanding issues, which have so far proved bottlenecks in the way of signing the much touted and delayed investment deal,” the functionary told on the condition of anonymity.

Elaborating he said, “These include scope, covering of investment, transparency, dispute settlement mechanism and extent of dispute. The core group will seek resolution of the said issues acceptable to both the US and Pakistan.”

The official said the US wanted the protection of the investment that it had done since 1947 under the investment deal. Washington also desires to implement transparency in letter and spirit in all commitments to be made in joint ventures between the US and Pakistani companies and wants the Pakistan government to act as a guarantor of sorts.

Understandably, Islamabad has rejected this demand outright and has made it clear that the government cannot be expected to be held responsible for any default of a private or a public sector company barring government-to-government projects. It has recommended that all such disputes must be resolved as per the yet to be finalised dispute settlement mechanism. So far indications are that the US is not interested in resolving such disputes through Pakistani courts, rather it is stressing that the dispute should be settled by international bodies.

 source: The News