Pakistan has complained of “unfair” treatment in economic matters by the US during talks here on Tuesday. Islamabad expressed frustration that bilateral trade relations are not commensurate with the role Pakistan has played in the war against terrorism.
The first day of meetings of the US-Pakistan Trade and Investment Council (TIFA), which is the fifth to happen, also saw Pakistan urge the US to afford the same opportunities and benefits it has extended to other countries.
In a thinly veiled reference to Pakistan’s military cooperation with the US, Commerce Secretary Zafar Mahmood said: “Close political relations and an enduring partnership on some key issues, including those with global implications, have not translated into an economic partnership of the kind that the US has cultivated with some of its other key allies”.
According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan, Pakistan has suffered losses worth over $68 billion during the past decade as a result of the war on terror. Within the same period, the US has given Pakistan approximately $13 billion in assistance.
Mahmood said that platforms like TIFA could play a highly effective role in forging a closer economic partnership between the two countries, while asserting that some issues have ruffled feathers in Islamabad, such as the US not providing duty-free access to certain Pakistani products in its markets.
In his opening speech he highlighted the need to implement the long-promised and much-delayed Reconstruction Opportunity Zones program. The US had proposed to set clusters of trade along the Pak-Afghan border to create employment opportunities. The plan was for the goods produced in these zones to be exported to the US duty free. However, the programme never materialised and the legislation eventually lapsed in the US Senate.
Mahmood said Pakistan hoped that a fundamentally improved programme that fully serves its underlying objectives will be implemented in the not too distant future.
He said that negotiations on a Bilateral Investment Treaty have been going on for quite a number of years now, but Pakistan still seeks US investment in the energy sector. The process has temporarily stalled as the US draft text for the treaty was being revised, leading Pakistan to ask the US if and when renegotiations might occur.
Pakistan also sought a relaxation of regulations on mango exports to the US. Currently, mangoes must be irradiated at a plant in Iowa. Mahmood said this made commercial shipments in sizeable quantities unviable. He urged Washington to review this requirement and allow pre-shipment irradiation in Pakistan.
The United States continues to be Pakistan’s largest trading partner. Bilateral trade has doubled over the last ten years to $5.3 billion per year.
Pakistan is eager to access US markets and finalise the Bilateral Investment Treaty. This includes the road map for setting up a private sector advisory panel under the TIFA framework, as agreed during the last meeting in Washington in April 2010.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2011.