11 January 2007
UN body invites Pak to join Asia Pacific trade group
By Sajid Chaudhry
ISLAMABAD: The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) of the United Nations has invited Pakistan to join the Asia Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) suggesting that this would help its membership to other important trading blocks such as ASEAN, AFTA, BIMSTEC and SCO.
Xuan Zengpei, Director of the Trade and Investment Division of UNESCAP, said while speaking at a seminar “The Asia Pacific Trade Agreement: recent developments and long term potential for Pakistan” held here on Wednesday.
During his presentation on the subject Mr Zengpei said that in November 2005, the first session of the Ministerial Council of the Bangkok Agreement adopted the revised text of the agreement and adopted the new name of Asia Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) as against its previous name of the Bangkok Agreement. APTA is essentially a preferential trading arrangement designed to liberalize and expand trade progressively in the ESCAPE region through such measures as relaxation of tariff and non-tariff barriers and trade-related economic cooperation.
At present China, India, Bangladesh, the Lao Republic, the Republic of Korea and Sri Lanka are members of APTA. However, he said that many more important countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and some Central Asian Republics are also keen to join this agreement, which would provide a platform to the member countries to expand their trade and economic linkages with members of a large region.
Elaborating on benefits for Pakistan upon joining APTA, Mr Zengpei said that joining APTA is low cost and gives simultaneous access to Asia’s largest and most dynamic economies. Membership of APTA facilitates product diversification and development and also helps in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) from China and the Republic of Korea. Joining APTA now helps new countries influence the results of new trade negotiations. Joining APTA at current concessions may yield limited benefits, but accession is at low cost. Long-term benefits are potentially high and go beyond trade benefits. Actual trade benefits will rise rapidly with deepening and widening of the concessions. Joining APTA will enable countries to actively engage in regional integration process.
He informed that launching of fourth round is expected to be initiated by end of 2007 for deepening of concessions, expansion of coverage, adoption of negative list, also include trade in services, NTMs, IPRs and investment along with trade in goods.
Marc Proksch, a senior official at the ESCAP secretariat, elaborated in detail the accession to APTA procedure and said that joining APTA is low cost as the expenditures of secretariat services are born by ESCAP.
Shahid Bashir, Joint Secretary Foreign Trade Pakistan, speaking on the occasion said that Pakistan had applied for membership of the Bangkok Agreement in 1998 and its request is still pending before the standing committee. He, however, said that if this APTA agreement can provide batter market access, then it should be joined. It can help integrate South Asian as well as East Asian economies to cooperate for their mutual benefits.
Anwar Naeem, Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce, in his presentation gave an overview of Pakistan’s market access initiatives and said that Pakistan has already concluded SAFTA negotiations and is engaged in negotiations with trading blocks such as D-8, OIC TPS, GCC, MERCOSUR and ASEAN.
On the bilateral side, Pakistan has already concluded its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations with China and Sri Lanka, Early Harvest Program with Malaysia is operative, enforcement of PTA with Iran will commence soon. FTA negotiations with Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Singapore, Nepal and Bangladesh are under process. Joint studies are underway for starting FTA negotiations with Thailand and Brunei.
He said that APTA can be an effective forum in future if it works towards a comprehensive FTA in whole Asia-Pacific region offering more economic and trade benefits for member countries than bilateral FTAs, or existing regional agreements.