ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan has expressed fears that stoppage of hundreds of food containers by the Pakistan Customs could cause temporary food shortage in the country.
The visiting Afghan Finance Minister, Dr Hazrat Omar Zakhiwal, said the 700 containers were carrying commercial cargo under the Transit Trade Agreement and had nothing to do with the Nato forces.
“Pakistan has no right to stop these containers carrying mainly food items and other domestic/commercial goods,” Dr Zakhiwal said at a meeting of the Pakistan-Afghan Joint Economic Commission (JEC) here on Tuesday.
The Afghan finance minister said the transit trade cargo containers were being held up at ports in Pakistan by the Customs department on suspicion that they were laden with illegal cargo.
“Delay in the clearance of food containers for several weeks is not only creating food shortage in my country but will also end up in revenue shortfall if such a large number of containers do not arrive in time,” he added.
Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, however, clarified that it would take seven to ten days for clearance of the containers currently held back by the Customs.
An official of the finance ministry told media that the containers had been imported by private companies under the Pakistan-Afghan Transit Trade Agreement, but they had been stopped by Customs after reports that supplies for Nato troops was being carried out under cover of commercial imports.
The official said under the transit treaty, Pakistan Customs can inspect containers to stop flow of contraband.
BILATERAL TRADE: The Joint Economic Commission agreed to raise bilateral trade to $5 billion by 2015 from the existing volume of $2.5 billion. The two countries will sign a formal agreement for promotion of bilateral trade.
They also agreed to establish a joint chamber of commerce and industry.
Pakistan has offered to host the inaugural session of the proposed chamber. Display centres for industrial exhibition will be set up in Karachi and Kabul.
Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh, reading out the joint press statement, said the meeting noted with satisfaction that bilateral trade had risen during the past four years from $850 million to $2.5 billion.
Hafeez Shaikh said the two sides had also agreed to discuss and resolve problems faced by traders, especially the blockage of Afghan commercial containers carrying perishable goods and fuel.
Later the Afghan minister held talks with Dr Asim Hussain, the Federal Minister for Petroleum, about smuggling of petroleum products through the Pak-Afghan border. They agreed to enforce a monitoring and preventative regime.
Dr Asim Hussain assured the Afghan finance minister of measures to facilitate supply of jet fuel in Afghanistan.
Mir Ahmad Jawid Sadat, Afghanistan’s deputy minister for mines, said his country wanted Pakistan’s assistance in extraction of chromites and marble.