Pak-US hectic talks on BIT draft

The Nation, Pakistan

Pak-US hectic talks on BIT draft

By Maqbool Malik

1 September 2012

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and the United States remained engaged on Friday to narrow their differences over the draft of Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) which Islamabad and Washington have been discussing since March 2012.

“There are still couple of points under discussion between the US and Pakistan to finalise the treaty draft”, US Embassy spokeswoman Rian Harris told The Nation hoping these issues would soon be resolved.On the other hand, Chairman of Board of Investment (BoI) Saleem H. Mandviwalla told a Press briefing that the Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf as well as the Law Division have already cleared the draft that further added to the mystery that something somewhere was going wrong.

The BIT talks came into spotlight of the national media following series of controversial Press briefings conducted for the Pakistani journalists by the six-member US negotiating team as well as BoI Chairman.It started with a hurriedly arranged background briefing by the visiting US negotiating team on Wednesday when they declined to concede that talks with Pakistan were not progressing well, and had to extend their stay in Islamabad ostensibly in the last ditch effort to evolve consensus over the draft.

The US team was prompted to extend its stay in Pakistan following an eleventh hour intervention by the Presidency as the US negotiating team announced its changed departure schedule after meeting with one of the powerful advisers to President Asif Ali Zardari.The US team during the background briefing had told Pakistani journalists which was accordingly reported in the national dailies that they had discussed with Pakistani negotiators the possibility of the BIT enabling US firms to fill senior management posts in Pakistan without regard to the nationality of the executive. This follows their meetings with the officials of Strategic Plans Division as well as Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and both the national institutions had expressed their reservations that such management positions being occupied by Indian or Israeli nationals could jeopardise country’s national security interests.

The US officials were adamant to argue that such reservations will have no place under the terms of the treaty.“The proposed BIT gives covered investors the right to engage the top managerial personnel of their choice, regardless of nationality,” the US officials said ,adding, that the treaty would exempt prospective investors from having to obtain No-Objection Certificates from Pakistan’s security apparatus for the appointment of top management staff. “No such [issue] came under discussion in our negotiations”. Saleem H. Mandviwalla had to clear the position in a Press conference on Thursday that all was going well with regard to the BIT talks.“When did the US negotiating team held its Press briefing”, he kept on asking the reporters when he again tried to clear the controversy at a Press briefing on Friday.Mandviwalla, dismissed reports that US team extended its stay in Pakistan, insisted that Pakistan will not allow anybody to cause harm to it.

“I will not allow anything against Pakistan’s interest. It could happen only over my dead body”, BoI Chairman emphasised.He was of the view that if any national institution had any reservations it should tell us, adding, that concerns of five national institutions including State bank of Pakistan, SECP, NHA and Ministry of Commerce regarding BIT with United States have been duly addressed and they were now onboard. He went on to argue that Pakistan’s only interest in BIT was to secure Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States and BIT was prerequisite to attain that goal. Interestingly, the senior officials of the policy-planning wing of the BoI remained reluctant to share details of the clauses with journalists to remove the concerns raised by certain institutions. Despite directives by BoI Chairman the senior officials did not share these details.

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