ISLAMABDAD: The United States has informed Pakistan that the Obama administration does not intend to move any legislation that will help to establish Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) hit by the ‘war on terror’.
The ROZs, which were meant to guarantee the duty free import of local produce into the US market, were promised by President Barack Obama’s predecessor in the White House.
During a 2006 visit to Pakistan, President George W. Bush announced the establishment of ROZs which were meant to ease the situation for both countries. Later, the facility was also extended to border areas in Afghanistan.
“The United States Trade Representative (USTR) officials told us in a meeting that Washington will not move any legislation for the establishment of ROZs this year,” Pakistan’s Secretary Commerce Zafar Mahmood confirmed in a conversation with Dawn on Monday.
Mr Mahmood headed a three-member delegation that visited Washington recently as part of the efforts to bring relations with the US back on track. This was the first official visit of any delegation after the Pakistani parliament approved new guidelines for the country’s troubled relations with the US.
Asked whether the ROZ proposal had been scrapped for good, the secretary answered that it was difficult to say, but agreed that the chances for the ROZ legislation passing were minimal.
Pakistan has spent millions on hosting meetings and sending officials to the US over the past six years to discuss various proposals on ROZs, only to come back with no results.
“One thing is clear. The present US administration will not consider approving the ROZ legislation. They prefer to leave that job to the administration that will come into office after the next presidential election,” said Mr Mahmood.
After a meeting last year, Pakistan announced that the US would work with Congress to adopt the ROZ legislation. However, something went wrong in the past few months that led to a straight ‘no’ on the issue from the Obama administration.
According to a former president of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industries, Senator Haji Ghulam Ali, the delay in the ROZ legislation was imminent. “I have been telling everyone from day one that this project would not materialise,” Mr Ali told Dawn.
Mr Ali was president of the Tribal Chamber of Commerce and Industry when the project was initiated. “US officials kept asking the Pakistan bureaucracy to conduct meetings on procedures, etc., but no progress has been made since,” he complained.
If America has any interest in this project, he said, it could have been implemented much earlier.
Admitting that it was unfortunate that the ROZ legislation could not get through the Congress, the US Embassy spokesperson in Islamabad, Mark Stroh, said his country was helping Pakistan in many other ways.
He said the legislation was presented several times, but failed to get through the Congress. “It is unfortunate,” he said, adding that the US government was nevertheless helping develop the fisheries department and tourism industry in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
When asked whether the ROZ legislation would be passed, Mr Stroh said it did not appear anything would happen.
The ROZ concept was developed to create jobs in the critical border areas as there are few economic opportunities for people living in the war-hit areas of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).
Textile products dominated Pakistan’s exports to the US, constituting more than 70 per cent of total exports. For the chairman of the All Pakistan Textiles Mills Association, Mohsin Aziz, ROZs without the textile industry was meaningless.
The US government was a bit reluctant to allow Pakistan to establish textile industries in these zones. “We have no other speciality except textiles. We cannot produce any other products to market in the US,” Mr Aziz said.
However, he said that the US decision — to stall on the ROZ legislation —would hurt the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
This project, he said, had the potential to create employment and drive economic growth. He accused the provincial government of not taking up the ROZ issue effectively with the US.