KARACHI: It’s about time Pakistani industries and businesses started to capitalise on a sanctions-free Iran, whose economy is set to make a strong comeback in the years to come, said speakers at a forum held on Thursday.

Participants at the Pakistan-Iran Business Opportunity Forum, organised by the Pakistan Business Council (PBC) in collaboration with the Ministry of Commerce, agreed that lifting of international sanctions against Iran in January 2016 has led to an increased interest in that country, which is the second largest economy in the Middle East and North Africa region with exports of nearly $74 billion and imports of $54bn in 2014.

Iran’s Consul General Mehdi Sobhani said that in this era of interdependence, bilateral trade was too small considering the size of the two economies. He questioned why Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline and other such projects have been stuck in limbo when other countries were doing business with Iran, even during the time of “cruel sanctions against my country”.

He said there was significant potential for trade between the two countries. “Pakistan is suffering from energy shortage. Iran can help end this ordeal.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has recently expressed the hope that the upcoming two-day visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is due today, will help revitalise bilateral ties.

PBC Chairman Atif Aslam Bajwa said Iran was currently taking far greater advantage of the existing Preferential Trade Agreement, leading to a great disparity in Pakistan’s imports and exports. He believed Pakistan should exercise caution before signing more trade agreements with the neighbouring country.

Trade Development Authority of Pakistan Secretary Rabiya Javeri Agha said the country was lagging behind other regional countries in commercial ties with Iran. “Trade is about money. But trade is also about trust,” she said.

On a question about non-traditional exports, like pharmaceuticals, to Iran, she said Pakistan did not have a single plant approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compared to some 800 FDA-approved facilities in India.

According to a PBC report, Pakistan’s exports to Iran were $43m in 2014 while imports were $185m. However, the report noted wide discrepancies between the trade figures provided by the two countries. During the same year, for example, Iran reported exports to Pakistan at $837m and imports at $261m.

Pakistan’s top potential exports to Iran are rice, cotton and petroleum preparations, with a potential of $1.6bn, $123 million and $100m, respectively.

State Bank of Pakistan Executive Director Operations Ashraf Khan and Pak-Iran Investment Company Limited Managing Director Nadeem Karamat also spoke on the occasion.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2016



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