Tuesday November 28, 2023

Pakistan-GCC free trade deal hailed as ‘remarkable step’ for export growth

By Our Correspondent
October 01, 2023

KARACHI: The Pakistan Business Forum (PBF) on Saturday praised the finalisation of a free trade agreement (FTA) between Pakistan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), calling it a “remarkable step” for export growth.

The FTA, which was signed in Riyadh on Friday, is the first by the GCC with any country since 2009 and is expected to increase trade between the two sides by up to 50 percent.

“We have excellent relations with all the countries of the GCC, and this FTA will ensure that our economic ties are commensurate with these excellent relations,” PBF President Mian Usman Zulfiqar said in a statement.

He said the FTA would provide a competitive level playing field to Pakistan compared with its South Asian neighbours, especially India and Bangladesh, which have been doing well in the GCC market.

“This FTA will also increase trade volume with GCC nations because if we compare our trade (with GCC) with India, it is doing well in GCC, while we are lagging,” Zulfiqar said.

He added that the FTA would boost Pakistan’s exports to the GCC countries, which are major trading partners of Pakistan and a source of remittances from millions of Pakistani workers.

The FTA would also help enhance trade and investment in sectors such as agriculture, mining, information technology, defence production, and energy, he said.

The PBF has been a vocal advocate for the FTA, arguing that it would create jobs in Pakistan and contribute to growth and prosperity in both regions.

Pakistan and the GCC had signed a framework agreement to discuss the free trade pact in August 2004, but only a few rounds of talks took place. The two sides resumed the negotiations in 2021.

The GCC is a regional bloc of six Arab countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.

The signing of the FTA comes as Pakistan is pushing to pitch an improved business climate and its potential for foreign direct investment in a range of sectors.

In June, Pakistan set up a Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), a civil-military hybrid forum, to fast-track decision-making and promote investment from foreign nations, particularly Gulf countries.

The council has identified five sectors as a priority and has been holding meetings with potential investors from the GCC and other regions.