ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed on a facilitation package to boost bilateral trade to $5 billion in the next few years.

An official of the commerce ministry told Dawn that in the first step the two countries would exchange revised draft transit trade agreement, by March 15 at the latest. “We are expecting to receive the draft from Kabul within the deadline,” the official added.

Draft amendments would then be deliberated at the 7th meeting of Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority (APTTCA) to be held in last week of this month, the official added. “Kabul will host the crucial meeting to finalise the revised treaty.”

According to the Article 50 of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA), the provisions of the present agreement shall be revised and amended appropriately to facilitate transit trade.

“Both sides have agreed in principle that the provisions of TIR Convention, to which both Pakistan and Afghanistan are signatories, will be adopted in APTTA to the extent possible,” the official said.

The TIR convention, effective from January 2016, provides that goods travel in customs secure vehicles or containers, and throughout the journey duties and taxes at risk would be covered by an internationally valid guarantee.

The official said that this amendment would help Pakistan export goods to Central Asian States without payment of duty and taxes via Afghanistan.

Both sides have agreed to constitute a high-level committee to discuss the issues relating to visas, road permits and guarantees for the implementation of TIR Convention in both countries, the official said.

The recommendations of the committee, the official said, would be sent to focal points of the APTTCA for consideration. The first meeting of the committee would be held in the second week of March 2016 in Karachi, the official added.

It was also agreed that both sides will organise a pilot run of Afghan trucks from Torkham and Chaman up to Wagah carrying Afghan exports to India, and Pakistani trucks from Torkham and Chaman carrying Pakistani exports to Sher Khan Bandar in Afghanistan (near Tajikistan border).

The Afghan trucks will be allowed to carry Pakistani exports to Afghanistan on their return journey. Similarly, Pakistani trucks will be allowed to carry Tajik and Central Asian export cargo while returning to Pakistan.

For providing legal cover to trucks movement, both sides agreed to finalise bilateral transport agreement. The draft agreement would be shared within one month, the official added.

For transit through railways, Pakistan Railways said that work was in progress to operationalise Azakhel Dry Port in Peshawar by December 2016.

It was agreed that in the meantime, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) will consider the request of Pakistan Railways to allow pilot run at Peshawar Cantonment stations for transhipment of Afghan transit goods. The Pakistani side shall examine the Afghan proposal for allowing containerised Afghan exports transit through railways.

Afghanistan’s request for change in destination of transit cargo from Torkham to Chaman and vice versa, filed by the Afghan traders, was agreed to by Pakistan customs.

Pakistan has also agreed to consider Afghan government proposal to waive guarantee requirements for items not prone to diversion and abolish the current negative list for transit trade.

The Afghan side also agreed to issue web-based one customs (WeBOC) user IDs for the country’s non-commercial importers through its commerce ministry, the official added.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2016