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> IT IS TIME TO MOVE ON TO A LIBERAL TRADE REGIME WITH INDIA: General consensus at the Briefing Session for Parliamentarians on Pakistan-India Trade
Briefing Session
February 25, 2014

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Islamabad; February 25: A multi-party consensus on liberalized trade regime with India was evident at the Briefing Session organized by PILDAT on ‘Pakistan-India Trade and National Interest’. The session which attracted over 50 members of the Senate and National Assembly belonging to eight political parties represented in the parliament, was briefed by eminent experts on the subject such as Dr. Ishrat Husain , Dean and Director of IBA Karachi and a firmer Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan; Mr. Qasim M. Niaz , Federal Secretary Commerce; Mr. Zafar Mehmood , Former Federal Secretary, Commerce; Mr. Sakib Sherani , Former Advisor, Ministry of Finance; Mr. Riaz Muhammad Khan , Former Foreign Secretary; Maj. Gen. (Retired) Anis A. Bajwa , Former Chief of Staff to Chief Executive of Pakistan; Mr. Sikandar Mustafa Khan , Chairman Millat Tractors Ltd & Chairman, Pakistan Business Council; Mr. Tariq Bucha , President, Farmers Association of Pakistan and Mr. Siraj Muhammad Khan , Chairman National Assembly Standing Committee on Commerce. Syed Naveed Qamar MNA and Former Federal Minister of Finance and Defence chaired the first session and gave the view point of his party – Pakistan Peoples Party. Mr. Shafqat Mehmood , MNA spoke on behalf of PTI while the former Minister of State for Finance; Omer Ayub Khan MNA represented PMLN. Mr. Khurram Dastgir Khan , Federal Minister for Commerce had to skip the session due to an unscheduled meeting of the Federal Cabinet.


Earlier Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob , President of PILDAT welcomed the speakers and the participants. He said that the shifting positions of Government of Pakistan on Trade with India does not enhance our prestige among the committee of nations. It is important to develop a consensus on the subject and then enforce the agreed policy with determination. He said that Parliament and its Standing Committees are the best fora to develop consensus on the subject and hoped that this briefing would help the parliamentarians to play their rightful role in guiding the government. Mr. Zafar Mahmood presented the Historical Context of the trade relations between Pakistan and India and said that Regional Trade played an important role in Developing Economy. He said before 1965 the trade between the two countries was normal but after 1965 war everything changed massively. The Bank branches of the other country were closed down in each country and the properties and assets of the banks were confiscated by the Governments. The trade between the two countries remained suspended till 1972 and resumed after the Simla Agreement. Mr. Mehmood was of the view that Pakistan should liberalize Trade with India without any fear of Indian domination of our markets. He acknowledged that India had erected numerous Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) which were a major obstacle to liberalization of trade. He felt that WTO regime offered us the opportunity to correct the uneven playing field where required.


Dr. Ishrat Husain , presenting his view point said that growth in trade leads to growth in GDP as has been proved in a number of cases around the globe. He said that trade is the engine of growth in modern times and there were numerous studies to prove that Pakistani industry can not only withstand a liberalized trade with India, it can in fact benefit from access to a much larger Indian market. He felt that a liberalized trade and the ensuing competition with Indian industry will help Pakistani industry to become more efficient and competitive. He said that if free trade agreement with China has not destroyed Pakistani industry, a similar arrangement with India would also not hurt so much. He said that India was trading with a much bigger economy of China despite the border disputes and an unfavorable balance of trade. Dr. Husain was of the view that Pakistan and India should liberalise trade with each other and address the issues on a case to case basis rather than obstructing the trade in general.


Mr. Riaz Muhammad Khan , Former Foreign Secretary said that a liberalized trade regime with India did not pose a threat to Pakistan’s national interest.


Major General (Rtd) Anis A. Bajwa presented the views from the security angle. He explained the modern concepts of national security and underscored that security was a much broader phenomenon than the notions of defence. He felt that a stronger economy was the most important factor in a country’s national security. Since a liberalized trade was likely to strengthen national economy, it will enhance national security as well. He said that Pakistan should focus on its economic interest and ascertain the value of trade with India on this basis.


Presenting the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) position, Mr. Shafqat Mahmood , MNA said PTI is in favor of liberalized Pakistan-India trade as it will boost the economy.


Mr. Omer Ayub Khan , MNA presenting the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz position said that his party is convinced that trade with India is important for peace and healthy relations with India. He said generally it is said that only export is good, import is not good, but infact import and export both are good for any country as it creates competition in local and International Markets.


Syed Naveed Qamar , MNA while winding up the discussion in the first session, said that Pakistan Peoples Party was strongly in the favor of liberalized trade with India. He said that PPP felt that there was no harm in enhanced trade with India. He also felt that neither India nor Pakistan should link resolution of disputes with trade as we had been doing in the past.


During the post-lunch session, representatives of various segments of national economy shared their views on the proposed Non-Discriminatory Market Access (NDMA) for India. Dr. Ishrat Husain chaired the session. Mr. Sikandar Mustafa Khan , Chairman Millat Tractors and Chairman, Pakistan Business Council said, while representing the Automobile sector and the business community in general, that there was no harm in opening trade doors with India as long as the concerns of the local businessmen were addressed. The government sometimes does not take stake holder into confidence while making important policy decisions due to which local business suffers. He said if suggestions of stake holders are taken into account, the stake holders will be the first ones to favor trade with India.

Mr. Sakib Sherani , who had authored the Discussion Paper for the Briefing Session, gave a balance sheet of pros and cons of liberalized trade with India. He felt that Pakistan would need to make a careful assessment of the sectors which might need special protective measures allowed under the WTO regime. He also cited the negative impact of Non-Tariff Barriers in India and hoped that a liberalized trade would not only mean steps on Pakistan side but also on the Indian side as well. But in principal he supported a more liberalized trade regime with India. He also proposed that the public concerns on both sides should be addressed by the respective governments by raising awareness about the benefits of greater trade and that a more liberal trade regime would not pose a security threat to any one as it would help in boosting the economy and creation of more jobs also.

Mr. Tariq Bucha , President of Farmers Association of Pakistan, said that the government did not include representatives of the agriculture sector in the consultations with various sectors of economy while formulating the policy of more liberal trade with India. He said that addressing the concerns of agriculture sector at an early stage would have paved the way for a liberalized trade with India. He said that the trade without taking protective measures will be beneficial only for the urban consumers but the farmers and consumers in the rural areas will suffer. He said that he was not against enhanced trade with India but the trade policy should protect the interests of Pakistani farmers as well because they are at a huge disadvantage because of the heavily subsidized agriculture in Indian Punjab.

Mr. Qasim Niaz , Federal Secretary of Commerce, Appreciated PILDAT for holding this briefing session and said that the issues between Pakistan and India on bilateral trade should be addressed through negotiations and an organized dialogue on Pak India Trade would be helpful in promoting understanding on the subject.. He said that officials at the Ministry of Commerce focus on expanding trade with a commercial and economic point of view and the political dimensions are left to the political leadership of the countyry. He admitted that Most Favoured Nation (MFN) was a misleading term and it has also contributed towards resistance to the idea by certain quarters. He said that there were non-tariff barriers from Indian side and Pakistan has the options of taking appropriate measures to safeguard its national interests. He said that the regional trade was important for every country. He believed that there were a few apprehensions in this regard which could be addressed through dialogue. He said that Pak India business Forum could play an important role in extending bilateral trade.. He admitted that there were some capacity issues which needed to be identified and addressed in Pakistan.

Parliamentarians enthusiastically participated in the Question-Answer sessions. A general consensus for a more liberal trade with India was evident in most of the comments made by the parliamentarians across the party divide. One key sentiment repeatedly expressed both by speakers and participants was that Pakistan, while protecting its own interest, must also fulfill its international obligations under various agreements and treaties and that it must project its image as a responsible country by honouring its public pronouncements. Many parliamentarians felt that the Briefing Session was immensely useful in giving them the factual information and various viewpoints on the subject.

The Honorable Senators who attended and registered their names in the briefing session included Senator Farhatullah Babar (PPPP, KP); Senator Begum Najma Hameed (PMLN, Punjab); Senator Syeda Sughra Hussain Imam (PPPP, Punjab); Senator Malik Muhammad Rafique Rajwana (PMLN, Punjab); Senator M. Hamza (PMLN, Punjab); Senator Muhammad Mohsin Khan Leghari (IND, Punjab); Senator Afrasiab Khattak (ANP, KP) and Senator Suraiya Amiruddin (PPPP, Balochistan).

Honourable Members of the National Assembly (MNA`s) who participated and registered their names in the briefing session included Rana Muhammad Afzal Khan , Parliamentary Secretary for Finance (NA-82, Faisalabad-VIII, PML-N), Ms. Sabiha Nazir (NA-301, Women Punjab- XXIX, PML-N), Mr. Khalid George (NA-337, NM- V, PML-N), Ms. Zahra Wadood Fatemi (NA-298, Women Punjab- XXVI, PML –N), Ms. Shahida Rehmani (NA-308, Women Sindh – I, PPPP), Dr. Mahreen Razaque Bhutto (NA-312, Women Sindh – V, PPPP), Ms. Sajida Begum (NA-324, Women Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa – III, PTI), Ms. Asyia Naz Tanoli (NA-282, Women Punjab- X, PML-N), Mr. Alhaj Shah Jee Gul Afridi (NA-45, Tribal Area-X, Independent), Ms. Nikhat Shakeel Khan (NA-318, Women Sindh – X, MQM), Mr. Siraj Muhammad Khan (NA-6, Nowshera-II, PTI), Chaudhry Muhammad Shahbaz Babar (NA-79, Faisalabad-V, PML-N), Shahibzada Muhammad Yaqub (NA-34, Lower Dir, JI), Ms. Shahida Akhtar Ali (NA-326, Women Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa - V JUI-F), Ms. Shahnaz Saleem Malik (NA-285, Women Punjab- XIII, PML-N), Dr. Muhammad Azhar Khan Jadoon (NA-17, Abbottabad-I, PTI), Molana Ameer Zaman (NA-263, Loralai-cum-Musakhel-cum-Barkhan, JUI-F), Mr. Arif Ur Rehman Alvi (NA-250, Karachi-XII, PTI), Ms. Tahira Aurangzeb (NA-275, Women Punjab- III, PML-N), Mr. Ali Muhammad Khan (NA-10, Mardan-II, PTI), Mr. Lal Chand (NA-339, NM- VII, PTI), Ms. Khalida Mansoor (NA-281, Women Punjab- IX, PML-N), Mr. Sajid Nawaz (NA-3, Peshawar-III, PTI), Ms. Nighat Parveen (NA-279, Women Punjab- VII, PML-N), Ms. Parveen Masood Bhatti (NA-276, Women Punjab- IV, PML-N), Sardar Awais Ahmad Khan Leghari , Chairman National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs (NA-173, Dera Ghazi Khan-III, PML-N), Mr. Mujahid Ali (NA-11, Mardan-III, PTI), Sardar Mansab Ali Dogar (NA-164, Pakpattan-I, PML-N), Ms. Kishwer Zehra (NA-315, Women Sindh – VIII, MQM), and Dr . Zulfiqar Ali Bhatti (NA-67, Sargodha-IV, PML-N).