ISLAMABAD: After a gap of 18 months, Pakistan and the United States are set to hold the first meeting of the working group on economics and finance under the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue aimed at finding common ground on wide-ranging economic issues.
The meeting will be convened in Washington on November 29-30, according to officials of the Ministry of Finance.
According to US Embassy spokesperson Rian Harris said that the meeting will take place soon without giving any further details.
The Pakistani delegation will include Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Minister of State for Finance Salim Mandviwalla, Secretary Finance Abdul Wajid Rana, State Bank of Pakistan Governor Yaseen Anwar and Federal Board of Revenue Chairman Ali Arshad Hakeem. The US will be represented by the deputy secretary of state and officials from the treasury department.
Officials say that the comprehensive agenda is likely to include all outstanding issues between both the countries that remain unaddressed so far. The last meeting of the economic and finance working group was held in Washington in April 2011.
However, in May 2011, the killing of Osama Bin Laden in a US raid on Abbottabad and the US attack on Pakistani border posts in November last year led to breakdown of the strategic dialogue.
Nevertheless, both countries have decided to hold working group meetings on counter-terrorism, economy and finance, energy, defence and water issues.
The first working group meeting on counter-terrorism was held in early October. Both sides had discussed counter-terrorism cooperation and agreed to formulate a joint strategy to cope with extremism and terrorism.
The officials of the finance ministry said that bilateral economic cooperation and the US civilian assistance are on top of the agenda, which has so far remained behind schedule. Under the five-year Kerry-Lugar-Brahman Act, the US will give $7.5 billion to Pakistan as aid. However, to date the US has released less than $2 billion.
In order to provision less assistance, the US also included the amount disbursed a year before the implementation of the Kerry-Lugar-Brahman Act. By adding this sum, the US claims that it has provided $2.9 billion to Islamabad so far, according to officials of the Economic Affairs Division.
The officials said that Pakistan will also take up the issue of financing the Diamer Bhasha Dam, as despite promises the US has not disbursed any amount. Pakistan has been facing problems in arranging funds for the construction of the $11.2 billion dam.
Pakistan will also urge the Obama administration to reimburse the reconciled amount of Coalition Support Fund (CSF). The US reimbursed $1.2 billion under the CSF in July, providing spme breathing space to economic managers who are facing fiscal constraints due to dwindling revenues and increasing expenditures ahead of general elections.
The officials said that claims amounting to $600 million for the period of May to November last year were still pending with the Pentagon. Pakistan charges the cost to the US that it incurs while fighting the global war on terrorism.
The bilateral trade and investment cooperation is also on the agenda of the working group. The talks on the Bilateral Investment Treaty have been stalled due to Pakistan’s security agencies’ concerns regarding investments in some critical areas.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2012.
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