ISLAMABAD - Pakistan hopes to sign second phase of China-Pakistan free trade agreement by the end of current month during the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Beijing. Pakistan and China are currently holding parleys in Beijing to finalise second phase of China-Pakistan free trade agreement. “Negotiations are going very well and I am hopeful that FTA will be signed during Prime Minister’s visit to China on April 28,” said Advisor to Prime Minister on Commerce, Industries and Production and Investment, Abdul Razak Dawood while addressing a press conference along with chairman Board of Investment Haroon Sharif.

Dawood said that rice shipments to China had already begun as part of the deal which was agreed during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s four-day visit to Beijing and Shanghai in the first week of November last year. China had already provided market access to Pakistan in sugar, rice and yarn amounting to $1 billion. Following this market access, China may also give special $1 billion market access to Pakistan after June this year. 

Haroon Sharif said that inflow of foreign investment is around $1.441 billion during eight months (July to February) of the ongoing fiscal year as against $573 million investment during same time of the PML-N government. He further said that volume of investment would remain at around $3 billion during current fiscal year. However, it would significantly increase from the next fiscal year mainly due to the reforms introduced by the incumbent government to improve ease of doing business.

Inflow of foreign investment around $1.441b during eight months

Razak Dawood and Haroon Sharif highlighted that Pakistan is aggressively pursuing reforms to create ease of doing business in the country. The country had improved its ranking by 11 points and moved from to 136/190 from 147/190 in Doing Business Report 2019. Dawood said that the task is to ensure Pakistan carries on with the improvement trend. He appreciated World Bank for continued assistance and appreciated the efforts of all federal and provincial government departments.

Chairman Board of Investment informed that a new company can now be registered in just four hours with the SECP on its online platform. The government integrated SECP with Punjab and Sindh business registration portal. This has helped in reducing the time and process for registering a company and providing one platform where businesses are started. The SECP had registered more than 8,000 new companies in six months period due to the reforms process.

Sharif informed that number of tax payment had reduced to 10 from 47. Online payment of federal and provincial taxes, contributions and duties would be considered as one since now there is one online interaction. Online payments will help Pakistan to improve its ranking in paying taxes indicator. He hoped that number tax payment would reduce to single digit from next year.

Chairman informed that time for giving construction had also reduced. In Lahore, the Lahore Development Authority has started its one window operation where all departments involved in the process of issuing a construction permit are present. Similarly, in Karachi a one-window solution is in its development phase. Government of Sindh will be launching it soon. After the introduction of one window the process has been made efficient from 8 months to 2 months in Lahore and expected to be reduced to 3 months in Karachi.

Sharif said that there is complete automation of property registration in Punjab. Property registration through online mode has reduced the time drastically for this process and is one of the key areas of reforms. It improves transparency and quality of land administration.

Other areas of reforms are integration of key departments with WeBOC (online Platform of Pakistan Customs).To help importers/exporters and reduce the time and cost of compliance with departments, key departments have been integrated in WeBOC (Web Based One Customs Platform). The reforms also included automation of electricity connection process by K-Electric. K-Electric has made the process of getting a commercial electricity connection easier by making it online where the customer can track the application as well. Establishment of Collateral registry has also been started for unincorporated entities and registry has become operational with the appointment of registrar. This will help the small businesses to use their moveable assets as collateral for getting credit.

Sharif explained that it is a priority of the government to make business entry and operations easier, faster and cheaper. He added that the next step is to cut out the redundant regulations and remove unnecessary permissions/NOCs and inspections. He reiterated that the Board of Investment, as the secretariat of PM’s Steering Committee on Doing Business Reforms, is keen to improve the business climate.