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Mr. Ikram-ul-Majeed Sehgal
Distinguished Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Assalam-o-Alaikum and Good Morning!

I would like to felicitate the East West Institute for their timely initiative of bringing together important business leaders from the region to ponder strategies and generate ideas to exploit the economic potential of our region, and advance our shared goal of enhanced regional economic integration and cooperation.

I am confident that this congregation would produce useful policy inputs for some of the major challenges impeding the full utilization of our rich but untapped economic prowess.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In today’s highly interconnected world, regional economic cooperation is increasingly becoming an effective tool for promoting economic growth and political stability.

Fostering intra-regional trade and investment, economic and development cooperation, can create opportunities not only for supporting economic growth but also for achieving wider developmental objectives.

Europe’s economic integration presents a success story to be emulated by other regional blocs in their quest for harnessing their potential to create prosperity through regional economic cooperation and integration.

Unfortunately, regional cooperation has been rather slow in our part of the world. Despite the presence of a number of regional cooperation mechanisms, we have not been able to reap the dividends of regional economic cooperation.
Failure to engender a deeper regional integration is, inter alia, due to long-standing conflict and instability, competing regional and international interests, varying stages of economic development of countries in the region, poor infrastructural links, inability to benefit from complementarities, lack of coordination in policies and procedures, and the absence of a collective commitment to common development.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif has stressed the importance of forging a strong trade and economic partnership with Afghanistan, as part of his vision for “peaceful neighbourhood.” Accordingly, Pakistan is consciously engaged with Afghanistan to deepen our trade relations and concomitantly helping Afghanistan advance its economic self-reliance agenda through enhanced trade.

In our view, there are now promising developments that give reason for optimism.

The present leadership in Afghanistan has a strong commitment to reform and a clear vision for the future.

During the recent visit of President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani to Pakistan, we explored measures to enhance regional cooperation in many fields, especially in communications, energy and energy infrastructure development, for regional integration, connectivity and trade facilitation.

Besides, agreeing to increase the volume of bilateral trade, Pakistan and Afghanistan have undertaken to remove impediments to full implementation of Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APPTA).

In order to resolve the transit trade issues, the 5th meeting of Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority (APPTCA) was held in Islamabad on 1-2 January 2015, which positively resolved a number of issues relating to implementation of Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA).

We have undertaken a number of steps to facilitate Afghan transit trade. This includes expeditious clearance of goods at Pakistani ports and reducing transportation time from Karachi to Kabul, waiving off the requirement of “jawaznama”, and allowing transportation of Afghan transit goods via Railway. Pakistan has also agreed to allow all Afghan exports up to Wagha for onward export to India. Previously, only fruits and vegetables were allowed.

In addition to Chaman and Torkham border crossing points, Pakistan is considering to open more crossing points to further facilitate the transit trade.

A Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) with Afghanistan is under consideration. Once this is signed, it will help both the countries to strengthen commercial connectivity and enhance trade thereby.

A number of complementary measures have also been introduced to facilitate transit trade, including operationlization of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) at Torkham Crossing Point and development of Web Based Once Custom (WeBOC) system. The Government of Pakistan has also extended an offer to impart technical training to Afghan officials for smooth functioning of WeBOC system.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have notified a Joint Business Council in order to provide a platform to the top businessmen, entrepreneurs to discuss and highlight the issues in bilateral trade and mutually explore fresh avenues of bilateral investment.

Pakistan is pursuing a business friendly visa policy, offering maximum facilitation to genuine businessmen, including issuance of multiple entry visas. We hope other regional countries will also adopt liberal visa policies for businessmen with a view to boosting intra-regional trade and business.

It is part of our vision to connect Central Asia with Pakistan. This will create win-win situation for all in the region. In this context, a Trilateral Transit Trade Agreement among Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan is under consideration. The entry into force of a tri-lateral agreement could serve as a useful pivot for the promotion of trade and investment among Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan. It would help eliminate non-tariff barriers and remove hindrances and facilitate both transit and bilateral trade.

Another possibility of connecting Central Asia with Pakistan will be through the economic corridor being built from Kashgar to Gwadar. We have also agreed to have road and rail links for regional connectivity, particularly with Afghanistan. Furthermore, we are working on regional air links for the promotion of economic relations, tourism and people-to-people contacts.

Distinguished Participants,

Pakistan and Afghanistan have the advantage of strategic location and can become land bridges to several adjoining regions. In the years to come, we can transform this region into trade, communication and energy corridor.

As you are aware, Pakistan’s economy is affected by energy shortage. In order to address this problem, Pakistan is actively pursuing trans-regional energy projects like CASA-1000 and TAPI, which will transit through Afghanistan. Both these trans-regional initiatives can become game-changer in regional geopolitics and regional economic integration offering dividends to all participants, including Afghanistan.

The agreement on the transit fee of CASA-1000 with Afghanistan is a major breakthrough, which would put the project on fast-track.

Concurrently, measures for accelerating progress on TAPI gas pipeline project are also underway. 20th Steering Committee Meeting of the TAPI Gas Pipeline Project was held in Islamabad on 11 February 2015, wherein the parties unanimously agreed to setting practical, workable timelines for the project and appointing a Consortium Leader. 21st meeting of TAPI Steering Committee is being held in Kabul now, which is expected to take further important decisions (The meeting is being held on 19 March. Pakistan delegation would be led by the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources).

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Cooperation and coordination in trade and economic spheres is a win-win proposition, offering dividends to all participants. This would build greater stake in peace and thus help reinforce stability in the region.
Thank you.

19 March 2015

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