ISLAMABAD: The free trade agreement phase-II between Pakistan and China would be signed on April 28, apart from other important agreements relating to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to China, announced Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing.
Speaking at a press briefing at the Chinese embassy on the upcoming Second Belt and Road Forum to be held in Beijing from April 25 to 27, he said the FTA had finally been concluded after eight years of negotiations and it would be inked by commerce ministers of the two countries.
Under the FTA phase-II, the ambassador said, China would provide market access to 90% of Pakistani commodities at zero duty, while Pakistan would give China access to 65% of tariff lines.
He revealed that world leaders, including heads of state and government from 37 countries, would attend the forum’s roundtable summit, but Pakistan being a major partner of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was the most important of all.
“The Chinese prime minister and president are looking forward to the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to China where he will also hold bilateral meetings with the Chinese leadership to build more consensus on trade ties,” he added.
The Chinese envoy pointed out that China wanted a more prosperous and developed Pakistan as without sustainable development in neighbouring countries, China could not sustain its development.
He said under CPEC’s industrial cooperation, the first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) at Rashakai would be inaugurated in the current month where 20 factories would be set up initially.
Yao assured the people of Pakistan that employment in the SEZs would be given to the local people and latest technology would be transferred from China to Pakistan. “Cooperation in industrial and social sectors will be the main focus of the second phase of CPEC,” he added.
Talking about the multibillion-dollar ML-1 railway line project, the envoy said its technical aspects had already been finalised and the project would hit the ground soon. He also invited neighbouring countries to become part of the mega project as it was not only beneficial to China and Pakistan but to the entire region. Responding to a question, Yao said 11 out of 22 CPEC projects had already been completed while work on the remaining was progressing at a fast pace.
In total, $19 billion had been invested by China in all the projects – $13 billion given as commercial loans and $6 billion as concessionary loans to be repaid by the Pakistan government in the next 25-30 years.
Responding to a query about the Karachi Circular Railway, the Chinese envoy said the two sides were working on its financial model. “Many options of financial model, including build-operate-transfer (BOT), loan and financing from own resources, were under consideration,” he added.
He announced that China was eager to upgrade and develop tourist sites in Gilgit-Baltistan in order to provide facilities to local as well as foreign tourists.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2019.