Time for Pakistan to boost trade and investment with Muslim states: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar
Pakistan is ready to sign preferential trade agreements and free trade deals with Muslim countries to boost bilateral cooperation and investment in the days to come, a top government official says.
In an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, Federal Minister for Finance, Economic Affairs, Revenue and Statistics Senator Mohammed Ishaq Dar said the government’s preference is to promote trade and investment among Muslim countries.
“The trade among Muslim Ummah should increase and it is our priority to sign preferential trade agreements [PTAs] with Muslim states to promote bilateral relations and cooperation on economic front,” Dar said during his recent visit to Dubai.
Pakistan, which is the current chairman of the D-8 Group representing a combined population of one billion and a foreign trade market of $1 trillion, is very active to boost regional preferential trade, investment, energy cooperation and jobs for their workers. The group that includes Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey are signatories of the PTA, which is expected to be made operational shortly.
“We are ready to consider similar mutual bilateral trade benefits, which other Muslim countries will extend to Pakistan. We are ready to give them the same incentives that they offered to Pakistan,” Dar said, adding that Pakistan is a safe country for trade and investment in the region.
To a question, he said Pakistan is willing to conclude free trade agreements, or FTAs, with GCC countries, but the issue was not part of the agenda during his talks with top UAE leadership.
“We did not specifically discuss the free trade deal with the GCC during the meetings, but we are ready to proceed with it,” he said.
Pakistan has been striving hard to finalise an FTA with GCC states since 2005 to increase its trade volume with the bloc from $60 billion to around $350 billion by 2020. The country has so far signed FTAs with China, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the South Asia Association of Region Countries.
Fruitful UAE talks
Dar cherished close friendly relations with the UAE and said the Emirates’ fast progress on the economic front is a manifestation of its prudent leadership. He termed the talks with the UAE leadership “fruitful” and said it would help promote bilateral trade and investment between the two countries.
“We have very positive meetings with the UAE leadership in Abu Dhabi,” the finance minister said.
During his eight-day stay in Dubai, Dar held meetings with His Highness Shaikh Muhammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai; Shaikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Minister of Finance and Industry and Deputy Ruler of Dubai; Dr Anwar Mohammed Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs; and Shaikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, among others, and discussed matters of mutual interests.
The UAE has become Pakistan’s largest trading partner, with annual bilateral trade reaching $10 billion. It is also the second-largest investor in Pakistan with $21 billion investments in banking, real estate, energy, infrastructure, telecommunications, ports, housing and aviation.
During the meetings, Dar raised the issue of etisalat’s $800 million payment held due to non-transfer of properties in the name of PTCL and said the issue is expected to be resolved soon.
“We request the intervention of the UAE government and confident of receiving a ‘substantial amount’ of outstanding dues soon,” he said.
He said out of 131 disputed properties about 52 have already been transferred while another 56 have been cleared for handing over to PTCL. “Only 23 properties are involved in litigation and we are unable to transfer until these are cleared from the courts,” he said.
The finance minister also proposed the UAE to consider relaxation in terms of payment of crude oil purchase by Pakistan from Adnoc.
“We seek oil purchase on deferred payments due to rising crude import bill amounting to $16 billion,” he said, adding that it is part of commercial deals with friendly nations including the Saudi Arabia and Pakistan will absorb the cost of extended period for deferred payments.
During his meeting with Shaikh Nahyan, the finance minister said Pakistan can provide skilled manpower for the growing UAE economy. He also expressed the hope that telecom companies from the Middle East would participate in the forthcoming spectrum licence auction for introducing 3G services in Pakistan.