Pakistan and Uzbekistan may trade off concessions on opening of markets and transfer of prisoners during the upcoming visit of Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani to Tashkent as ministerial-level talks here made little progress.
A two-day meeting of the Pakistan-Uzbekistan Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC) could not make significant headway on issues of early start of negotiations on a preferential trade agreement and visa abolition agreement, initially to cover officials and diplomats, said Economic Affairs Division (EAD) officials.
The fifth session of JMC was co-chaired by Federal Minister for Privatisation, Water and Power Syed Naveed Qamar and Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources of Uzbekistan Ruziev Zafar Sharipovich.
Pakistan wanted to get the visa restrictions relaxed and sign a preferential trade agreement (PTA) at the earliest while the Uzbek side wanted to sign an agreement on transfer of prisoners. The Uzbekistan government is fighting against rebels and key insurgents take shelter in tribal areas of Pakistan, said a former security official.
Officials said Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani is scheduled to visit Tashkent on March 24 and 25 where he will raise issues of PTA and relaxation in visa regime.
Uzbekistan is the largest populated Central Asian republic, with population of 28 million, and Pakistan can explore its relatively closed market. Official statistics show that last year total trade volume between the two countries stood at $13 million, of which Pakistan’s exports were only $2 million.
EAD officials said that Uzbekistan also shied away from allowing the upgrading of a National Bank of Pakistan representative office in Tashkent into a branch. It has slapped a condition that Pakistan should seek A-plus rating from an international credit rating agency.
According to an official handout, Pakistan and Uzbekistan signed a joint protocol of mutual cooperation in the fields of trade, economics, finance, scientific and technical cooperation, transportation and transit of goods, bilateral investment, power, food and agriculture, information technology and telecom, culture and environment here on Friday. Qamar and Sharipovich signed the protocol.
The two sides agreed to facilitate the business community to participate in fairs and exhibitions in both countries and to continue dialogue on visa policy. Pakistan and Uzbekistan unanimously agreed to form a joint working group for implementation of joint investment projects.
They decided to consider the possibility of extending cooperation in oil and gas, leather, pharmaceutical and other sectors of economy. Both sides also agreed to enhance cooperation between the Institute of Genetics and Experimental Biology of Plants of the Academy of Sciences, Uzbekistan and Pakistan Central Cotton Committee (PCCC) for research and development in cotton sowing.
The sixth session of the Joint Ministerial Commission will take place at Tashkent in 2013 on mutually agreed dates.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2011.