Since July 22 when Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Bangladeshi counterpart Shaikh Hasina spoke by telephone, the media landscape has been rife with speculations about a new political alliance in the region and picturing both the countries taking steps to improve ties in the near future.
With the rare telephonic talk, political and economic compulsions appear to be taking the prime minister of Pakistan and Bangladesh towards rapprochement between the two countries. However, the process of reconciliation did not just begin with the phone call as quiet efforts to rebuild ties between the two countries have long been in motion.
Despite the general unfriendly political environment, trade has been considered one of the major factors raising hopes of a thaw in their otherwise frosty relationship. In fact, the National Assembly was informed the other day that Bangladesh is “the second top export destination of Pakistan in Asia after China and Afghanistan”.
The minister for commerce, while answering a question of MNA James Iqbal asking to state the steps being taken by the government to promote trade relations with Bangladesh, said that “Bangladesh is one of the top destinations for exports of Pakistan. Trade between Pakistan and Bangladesh has always been in favour of Pakistan”.
While giving a breakdown of exports and imports of the past five years, the minister told the parliamentarians that both the countries had a total trade of $700.39 million in 2019-20, wherein Pakistani exports amounted to $654.79 million and import from Bangladesh stood at $45.60million.
“Even though trade remained in surplus this year too, the overall trade -- including both exports and imports decreased in the wake of Covid-19, the economic fallouts of which remained palpable throughout the world since February, 2020,” the ministry stated.
Both the countries had a total trade of $806.75m in 2018-19, $805.00m in 2017-18, $678.43m in 2016-17, $763.08m in 2015-16 and $769.53m in 2014-15.
Pakistan’s exports were worth $752.67m in 2018-19, $736.41m in 2017-18, $618.71m in 2016-17, $707.11m in 2015-16 and $704.97m in 2014-15.
The reply outlined the steps & measures undertaken by the Ministry of Commerce, the Commercial Section, Dhaka, and the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) to promote trade with Bangladesh.
It said the government of Pakistan has included Bangladesh in List ‘A’ countries from October 2019 which has facilitated travel of Bangladeshi businessmen to Pakistan.
In addition, it revealed that the issues regarding restricted visa regime by Bangladesh for Pakistani businessmen and maintaining a separate counter for registration of Pakistani businessmen on arrival before the immigration process were taken up with the relevant authorities in Bangladesh and, consequently, some positive development were witnessed towards this end.
The ministry maintained that the trade promotion measures ensuring an effective participation in trade-related events by TDAP have resulted in first ever participation of Pakistan Tanners Association’s (PTA) in trade shows like the “Leather Tech” in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2018 and again in 2019.
Similar efforts paved the way for participation of the Bangladeshi buyers’ delegation in TEXPO-2019 Lahore wherein orders worth US$263,974 were generated. Moreover, it said, “the Commercial Section, Dhaka, has actively been pursuing activities ranging from match-making and networking to resolution of trade disputes between the two countries on regular basis.”
The reply also revealed that Pakistan’s major exports to Bangladesh include woven cotton fabrics, cotton yarn, raw sugar, raw cotton, tanned leather, machinery and its parts and synthetic fabrics including silk and woolen.
Pakistan’s main items of imports from Bangladesh are raw jute, tea and mate, yarn & thread of synthetic fibers and tobacco.
Though the relations between the two countries have remained tense for the last many years, it is now hoped that the phone call between the two leaders and PM Imran’s invitation to the counterpart for a visit will not only pave the way for cordial relations but, soon, close people-to-people contact will heal the wounds of the past.