LAHORE    -   As Pakistan and China are going to sign the second phase of Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in Beijing on Sunday (today), the Pakistan Industrial and Traders Associations Front (PIAF) has welcomed the government efforts to convince China for extending duty-free access to Pakistan on 313 items. The agreement will help boost the exports of the country, besides increasing foreign exchange, said PIAF former chairman Irfan Iqbal Sheikh.

He said that under the new list of 313 items, included in the second phase of China-Pakistan free trade agreement, the country’s export earnings could increase by at least $500 million within one and a half years, which is a good news for country’s economy.

He said the new list is not limited to textile specific products but also includes textile goods, leather, engineering, chemicals, furniture, auto parts, plastic, rubber, paper board, ceramic, glass, surgical instruments, footwear, wood, articles of stones, sea food, meat, tractors, home appliances etc.

Irfan Iqbal endorsed the Prime Minister Imran Khan’s five suggestions for progress in his address to the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing.

He added that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is moving towards its next phase. The Belt and Road Forum helped Pakistan to reduce its power crisis and Gwadar is turning into a commercial hub, he said.He said Pakistan is the first partner of China in this mega project, and thanked Beijing for its unconditional support of Islamabad.

Referring to the first phase of Pak-China FTA, which came into effect in 2007, he said that it lacked proper safeguard measures, and now on our request, the Chinese authorities have incorporated those measures in the second phase.

He said that the federal cabinet at its meeting during the week had approved the second phase of FTA which will become operational after the Chinese government completes due diligence.

Almost 95pc of the tariff lines will come under the EDE, covering every item, he explained. In this regard, he appreciated the hard work done by economic team of the govt.

Irfan Iqbal said that the real challenge is on both ends import and export, and the biggest problem is how to reduce imports. Referring to the $15b trade deficit between Pakistan and China, he said that steps should be taken to bring down imports from Beijing and govt has reduced import by $3.5b as compared to previous fiscal year.

PIAF chairman Mian Nauman Kabir showed disappointment with the export figures for March but was hopeful that these would improve in April. He said that it is not difficult to generate long-term investment interest in Pakistan, and under the FTA, market access is available while companies are also interested.

 He said that under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor economic zones, land for five zones should have been prioritized. He said there are multiple layers of sanctions at federal and provincial levels and all permissions should be merged in a single portal for ease of business. These permissions at multiple levels should have been removed to enhance investment.