Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf accorded approval to the Strategic Trade Policy Framework, which will be announced by Commerce Minister Makhdum Amin Fahim after obtaining confirmation from the entire cabinet, on Friday. The framework, a three-year plan under which the annual trade policies will be prepared, with an export target of $95 billion in its final fiscal year, to cover the three years until June 2015. In view of the picture presented in the State Bank of Pakistan’s quarterly development finance review, released a day earlier, on Thursday, that target may well be problematic, perhaps impossible, but certainly ambitious. The review points out that the country’s economy is still in recession, and that there are still such challenges facing the economy as the energy crisis. The target also represents a tying down of the government that will be thrown up as a result of the elections falling due, with the policy coming to an end when the next government will have completed two years in office. It may well be that what the framework does, more than anything else, is highlight what can be achieved, and where the nation should be pitching its goals. However, if that is the case, there is the danger inherent in any target that is indicative: it will not be achieved.

The framework may well be merely an election gimmick. While such futuristic projections are always optimistic, there must be a conscious effort to avoid wishful thinking. Apart from the fact that there are challenges to the economy which are also failures of governance about whose rectification the framework makes no comment, there is not sufficient consideration of the international trading environment, which it assumes would allow a huge expansion in Pakistan’s commerce. There was copious mention of foreign trade and the opportunities for Pakistani businessmen, but there is not enough on the underlying assumptions that make the Commerce Ministry, which authored the report, assume that Pakistan could enter markets where its presence is notional, at best minimal, at a time when the entire world is in the trough of a business cycle.

The government should pay attention to how trade is flowing, and its effect on trade and industry. It should not be so anxious to grant Most Favoured Nation status, as it did to India, which it is allowing to flood its markets and thus destroy its industry. Simply drafting frameworks will not work, not unless there is hard work put in to ensure that the framework is more than just building castles in the air.