These days, it seems, the government’s diplomatic energies are spent undertaking virtually every fool’s errand they can possibly think of, rather than focusing on what should be defined as Pakistan’s core strategic interests. The US-Pakistan bilateral investment treaty is a case in point. Economists in both Pakistan and abroad have concluded quite comprehensively that investment treaties have far less of a positive impact on the economic health of a developing country than trade agreements, but Islamabad appears hell-bent on signing one with the US anyway, regardless of how much time and energy are wasted on the effort. Negotiations for this treaty have been going on since 2005 and have yet to bear any fruit, even if it is the relatively minor achievement of an investment treaty.
By contrast, the government has not even tried to ask for a free trade agreement with the US — something that would be of a much greater value to Pakistan than an investment treaty. After the European Union, the US is Pakistan’s largest export market and one where our exporters have been losing ground to countries that have more favourable trade agreements with Washington. While an investment treaty with the US would have value for Pakistan, a trade treaty should take priority. The government needs to be far more proactive in negotiating with the US government and lobbying for support amongst the US legislators who are opposed to such a deal.
For all the flaws of the previous administration’s economic policies, we do like President Asif Ali Zardari’s mantra of “trade, not aid” and believe that it should be adopted as government policy, regardless of who is in office. The previous government was not successful in negotiating any significant trade agreements during its tenure. We hope that the present one, with its strong links to Pakistan’s export-oriented business community, will have better luck. But for that to happen, it needs to start by trying harder.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2013.
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