Islamabad - Speakers at a multi-stakeholders consultation stressed the need for improving trade linkages with neighbouring countries in the region. They also called for developing the narrative that trade can bring peace and therefore the regional countries should go for it, rather than waiting for peace to start a trading regime. They said conflict should not be the bottleneck in way of trade and South Asia should follow the examples of UK and Spain, as well as China and India where regional trade continues despite centuries’ old conflicts on territories.

The consultation on “Trade with Neighbors: Prospects and Challenges,” was organized by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) where SDPI also launched its two recent studies on regional trade.

Speaking on the occasion, Federal Minister for Commerce Engineer Khurram Dastgir said that PML-N government is committed to increase regional trade as part of promoting peace without compromising on national sovereignty. He added that connectivity especially transport through road, rail and maritime is vital in Prime Minister’s vision of regional cooperation and trade. Commerce ministry is proactively focusing on tri-lateral avenues of trade, connectivity and investment as part of regional cooperation to promote peace in South Asia.

Dr Abid Qayyum Suleri, Executive Director of SDPI, while upholding the narrative that trade can bring peace, said that countries cannot change their neighbours and regional trade is all about neighbours, building alliance and synergies for economic and social development to minimize conflict and promote peaceful coexistence. He added that trade is changing from commodification to supply chain concept where linkage and collaboration is the key for progress and prosperity. “Pakistan has given India a de-facto most favorite nation status by shifting from positive list basis trade regime to a negative list basis trade regime. We are now trading on 85% tariff lines compared to 35% tariff lines till 2011”. He said it’s time to focus on human securities. Minister for Privatization Muhammad Zubair, highlighting the importance of regional trade, said that we should follow examples of China-India, China-America, Russia-Europe and many others which have their principle stance on political differences among them yet resolved to continue trading with each other. He said PML-N’s manifesto plans for ‘Economic growth’ wherein Pakistan- China Economic Corridor and trade with neighbors is on top on agenda. He also emphaised the importance of changing our perception to a peace loving nation in the international community to attract foreign direct investment through

PPP Senator Rubina Khalid termed the “mistrust level” between Pakistan and India as the basic problem for low regional trade. However, she warned of following a unilateral trade liberalization approach and advised that Pakistan should trade with neighbours on reciprocal basis. Dr Vaqar Ahmed, the Deputy Executive Director of SDPI, said that aim of this consultation is to share our findings and look into new opportunity in the context of Pakistan’s role as an economic corridor due to its geographical situation linking South Asia, China and central Asian region to Arabian sea and rest of the world.

 Unfortunately, within South Asia shipping connectivity is very low and closely regulated which needs to be deregulated referring to World Bank’s ease of trade across borders. Chinese financing in road and rail infrastructure can be a game changer in the region by connecting regional trade and becoming part of supply chain. Trade between Pakistan and India is happening even with barriers, through traditional and non-traditional traditional routes by going around the security paradigm

Shaban Khalid, former President of Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry, suggested that Pakistan needs to revisit its commercial conflict resolution mechanism by making it efficient and friendly to reassure investors who are weary of present lengthy procedures. There is need to transform our agro-based produce to convert it into value-added products. Ali Salman presented different figures quoted from difference sources about Chinese investment in energy and infrastructure development.