THE Domestic Commerce Wing was created in mid-2013 in the federal commerce ministry to reform and develop domestic commerce. Earlier on, the commerce ministry had been promoting external trade alone.
The wing has developed terms of reference and guidelines for evolving a uniform national policy for domestic commerce.
The first meeting of the Domestic Commerce Reforms and Development Committee was held in June to review the performance of the Domestic Commerce Wing (DCW). An official of the wing said each province had been tasked to furnish its individual strategy for domestic commerce in the next meeting, to be held after three months.
The deadline for the meeting has already lapsed. One of the reasons is the shortage of human resource and funds, said the officer.
After the 18th constitutional amendments, most of the work was devolved to the provinces. Therefore, the provinces can be equally held responsible for the slow movement on domestic commerce.
The DCW has already sent guidelines to the provinces to carve out a roadmap to develop each district on a commercial and an economic basis — skill development, resource mapping and utilisation, identifying lacunae in the local current commercial and economic practices, and suggest measures to reform them.
The DCW will examine the relevant policies, orders and regulations at all tiers of government to rationalise the regulatory burden on businesses and facilitate the growth of domestic commerce in the country
As part of business facilitation, the DCW will establish Domestic Commerce Facilitation (DCF) offices in all districts to work at the field level for rapid, need-based facilitation measures. These DCFs will provide input to the federal office on real-time localised issues and constraints. It will also examine farm-to-market access impediments to enhance the access of agriculture products to markets.
The regulation of domestic commerce is uneven: it is either too stringent or too loose. There are certain examples where the regulations are present but not sufficiently implemented, like the registration of businesses under the Shop Act or the Committee Act.
The DCW will start with examining the existing legal and regulatory framework for domestic commerce sectors, like retail and wholesale markets, transportation, storage, real estate, supply chain and competition etc.
It will identify bottlenecks — including those associated with the regulatory processes, taxation, consumer protection and welfare, monopoly control and farm-to-market access — that are impeding the development of these segments and also point out the aspects that are inconsistent with global trends and best practices.
The low level of consumer awareness in Pakistan is rooted in economic inequality and low levels of literacy. Because of this, consumers are not able to assert their rights and are exploited by trade, industry and service providers. The DCW will liaise with the Competition Commission of Pakistan to identify the bottlenecks in domestic trade practices with a view of enhancing consumer welfare and discouraging monopolistic trends.
One of the most important issues is the lack of coordination among different federal and provincial agencies working for the facilitation or regulation of domestic commerce. There is also a serious dearth of research on district-level commerce issues.
The DCW will fill this gap and work as a coordination agency between difference public departments and organisations as well as between private sector stakeholders and public sector organisations.
The only attempt made in Pakistan to address these issues was the introduction of the office of district officer enterprise development and investment in the Local Government Ordinance 2002. But this post was not made functional owing to opposition from the Pakistan Administrative Service (formerly the District Management Group).
The spirit behind the office of enterprise at the district level was to facilitate trade at the grass-roots level, but it was not enough.
The DCW has initiated consultations with the provincial governments to develop an institutional framework within the existing provincial and district government setup to improve economic and commercial governance at the grass-roots level.
The drafted terms of reference focus on domestic markets to prepare the domestic industry to produce competitive goods of good quality. The DCW will examine the relevant policies, orders and regulations at all tiers of government to rationalise the regulatory burden on businesses and facilitate the growth of domestic commerce in the country.
Moreover, it is supposed to draft a domestic commerce policy in consultation with all relevant stakeholders. The wing will develop a comprehensive advocacy plan to increase public awareness at the district level of domestic trade facilitation measures, practices and standards.
Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, September 28th, 2015