To further boost trade and economic ties with Afghanistan and find a trade way to former soviet states, Central Asian countries, Pakistan has formally launched transit trade from the Pak-Afghan Ghulam Khan border point.
The launching of transit trade via Ghulam Khan point, would not only further increase Pak-Afghan trade, but will also help the business community of both countries to reach the Central Asian trade market, diverting trade via Afghanistan and Pakistan. If both countries succeed to explore the Central Asian trade market, it could be a game changer in the region.
Recently, Pakistan and Afghanistan extended the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) for the next three months, after failing to complete discussion and deliberation on the agreement despite its expiry two months ago. The agreement, which was signed by the two neighboring countries for improving trade in 2010, had expired in February this year. The decision to extend the agreement aims to prevent any disruption in trade and transit affairs between the two countries whereas the extension would buy time for the two countries to further discuss the proposed amendments in the agreement.
However, to strengthen such trade relation between the two countries, Pakistan finally launched Pak-Afghan Transit Trade via the Ghulam Khan border.
In this connection, a formal ceremony was held at the Ghulam Khan border that was attended by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Relief, Rehabilitation and Settlement Department Muhammad Iqbal Khan, Transport Minister Shah Muhammad Khan, Deputy Commissioner Shahid Ali Khan, District Police Officer Shafiullah Khan Gandapur, other officials, elders and traders from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Two large trucks loaded with transit goods arriving from Karachi were dispatched to Afghanistan on the occasion. In his speech, the transport minister said that trade through the Ghulam Khan border would enable the country to have business with Central Asian Republics. He said such trade would bring economic prosperity to North Waziristan and improve the living standards of the local people.
Traditionally, Pakistan and Afghanistan both have centuries old historic trade relations. However, with the passage of time and changing of political scenario in both countries, “trade became a hostage to politics”. Being brotherly countries, bilateral trade between the two countries should be improved.
Unfortunately, Pakistan’s exports to Afghanistan have declined by 13.59 per cent during the eight months of the current fiscal year 2020-21, as compared to the same period last year. Figures showed that the overall exports to Afghanistan were recorded at $629.324 million during July-February (2020-21) against exports of $728.315 million during July-February (2019-20), showing a decline of 13.59 per cent.
On yearly basis, the exports to Afghanistan during February 2021 declined by 10 percent, from $95.194 million against the exports of $85.674 million. While on monthly basis, the exports to Afghanistan also dropped by 8.21 percent during February 2021 as compared to the exports of $93.341 million in January 2021.
Chamber of Small Traders Khyber Pakhtunkhwa President Adnan Adeel, while commenting on Pak-Afghan trade relegation said that Center Asia has a big trade market for both Pakistan and Afghanistan. “If both countries succeeded to divert the export of Central Asia via Afghanistan and Pakistan, it will be a game changer.”
Uzbekistan alone exports five to six million cotton bales via Bandar Abbas Port annually. If they used the Gwadar and Karachi ports, not only the distance would be reduced, the cost of export would also be reduced.
Adeel stressed upon Pakistan and Afghanistan government to resolve all trade-related issues and facilitate the businesspersons of both countries to improve bilateral trade relations between the two countries. Both countries have very rich trade and culture relations, therefore, free trade should be encouraged between the two. He said that despite of political differences, all the SAARC countries needed to change their mindset, “we should think about our economy” and question “where the economy is standing right now”.
SAARC countries have potential to produce about 3,025 thousand megawatt of hydropower. “Only in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, we have the potential to generate 45,000 megawatt hydropower.”
This potential could be capitalized on and harvested via public private partnership among SAARC countries, he added While giving an example of Bangladesh, Adeel said that Bangladesh developed via its small and medium enterprises sector, while out people had invested in the textile industries, but today only Bangladesh’s textile exports have reached up to $35 to $40 billion.
The president of the small traders’ chamber said that to improve the economy in South Asia, all SAARC countries should join hands.
There is a lot of potential in the SAARC platform, and if utilised by putting political disputes aside, economies will go on a growth trajectory and exports will increase.
The writer is a staff member