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ISLAMABAD: The United States wants Pakistan to remove all barriers which are hindering progress in further promotion of trade and investment relations between the two countries, a senior US official said on Tuesday.

“We want incremental progress in the promotion of bilateral trade and reduction in the trade and investment barriers, Michael J. Delaney, Assistant US Trade Representative for South Asia, said who is currently in Islamabad to finalise the agenda for the next meeting of the Joint Council formed under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).

The Joint Council is expected to hold its session before the US presidential elections. Though date has not yet been finalised, but the US official was optimistic about the meeting some time in October.

Among the several factors hampering trade he hinted at security related issues, energy crisis and high tariff rates.

The security situation and energy crisis have led to reduced foreign direct investment in Pakistan, he said.

Mr Delaney referred to the ‘Doing Business’ index and talked about difficulties for businesses in Pakistan. While pleading for reduction in tariff rates, he called for phasing out of SROs.

He said that tax disputes in Pakistan are very common while dispute resolution process is weak.

He marked intellectual property laws as another barrier and said it is a major issue under discussion.

Mr Delaney said that the $5.5 billion trade between the two countries is only a fraction of the potential.

Pakistan is showing surplus in our bilateral trade, as US is Pakistan’s best customer and buys more Pakistani products than any other country. We want to grow both our imports and exports under TIFA. The 14.5 per cent tariff on trade is pretty higher than what is levied in the United States, the US official said.

He said: “we want to further improve good trade relations”.

The US government is exploring ways and means to increase bilateral trade and investment relations with Pakistan, and in this regard have already organized annual business opportunities conference in New York which provided opportunities for the business communities of the two countries for faster interaction leading to working out joint ventures and business deals.

About regional trade, he said that Pakistan lives in tough neighbourhood since South Asia is the lowest performing region in terms of intra-regional trade.

Recently, US got Pakistan admitted as observer to our TIFA with Central Asia with the view that it will enhance Pakistan government’s interactions with the governments of Central Asia towards increasing trade in the region, he said.

Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2016