Hafeez Shaikh Demands Fair Opportunity for Pakistani Exports

Islamabad: Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh called for a fair opportunity for Pakistan’s exports to international markets as he argued that a Pakistan-U.S. relationship cantering on economic interests would endure, in contrast with fickle nature of past transactional ties.

“We feel if we are simply allowed to trade like other countries, if barriers are not imposed we will do just fine,” he said, speaking at Washington’s Atlantic Council. Dr Shaikh said Islamabad has no desire to depend on aid forever.

“We are not looking for (a) perpetual kind of government-to-government help. What we are looking for is a chance for our people to be allowed to compete with the rest.” Islamabad has been urging the United States to reduce high tariff on its textile products in order to spur the country’s exports but, according to experts, Washington lobbies and opposition in Congress to preferential trade programs, have thwarted any headway.

A bill on allowing preferential access for Pakistani and Afghan products from specially designated reconstruction opportunity zones has been around for several years without any worthwhile progress. The finance minister told the think tank gathering of South Asian experts that Pakistan has had episodes of external assistance during wars—in the 1960s during the cold war, in the 1980s during the Soviet Union-Afghanistan war and now in the first decade of the 21st during the anti-terror war.

Twenty years back, we won a conflict together in Afghanistan but sadly we lost the peace. And the countries including this country (U.S.) paid a price for it and Pakistan paid the highest price for this, apart from Afghanistan. We don’t want to lose the peace again. We want that this time we learn from the past and try to ensure that the relationship is based on a broader footing. That is why both governments are trying that the economy acquires centrality in the relationship.

I am confident that if that be the case, the partnership will endure,” said Dr Shaikh, who also met senior American officials at the State Department during his stay in Washington for IMF-World Bank annual meetings. The finance minister underscored that Pakistan-U.S. relationship is very important for the whole world and it should not be seen from a narrow angle but in a broader perspective.

“In my conversations with my friends—there is no such talk,” he said, when a participants wanted to know what would be the impact on Pakistan’s economy if Washington resorted to aid cut moves. The U.S. spent half a billion dollars under the Kerry-Lugar bill in the last Pakistani financial year which ended in June, he said. Pakistan, he said, is committed to repaying $1.2 billion due in the current financial year to the International Monetary Fund.

“I think there is no danger or threat of Pakistan not having funds to pay back IMF,” he said, citing comfortable levels of foreign exchange reserves. Pakistan, he noted, has a history of always paying back their debts. So it is I think not even an issue that is of concern to us at this point,” said the minister. In answer to a question, Shaikh also pointed out that some developing countries have been subjected to much deeper and frequent scrutiny while developed economies grappling with very serious troubles have seen much softer examination.

Earlier, the finance minister and his team of economic managers discussed ways to expand investment and business opportunities with members of U.S.-Pakistan Business Council at the Chamber of Commerce.

Dr Shaikh touched on the background and current state of the national economy and said despite facing worst floods, the Pakistani economy has begun to show resilience, particularly in the external sectors. He reaffirmed Islamabad’s commitment to wide-ranging reforms and economic growth to reduce poverty.

The finance minister held out commitment to facilitating foreign investment into various sectors of the economy and said a wide majority of the foreign companies has been reaping high dividends in Pakistan.

Also, national institutions like State Bank and Federal Board of Revenue are working independently, free of any government interference, he said.

Accompanying the finance minister are top economic managers including Finance Secretary Dr Waqar Masood Khan, Acting Governor State Bank Anwar Yasin, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Nadeem ul Haq, Chairman Federal Board of Revenue Salman Siddique, Secretary Economic Affairs Abdul Wajid Rana and Minister Economic at the embassy.

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