ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Commerce is unaware of the mechanism by which Indian entertainment content – TV channels, soap serials, advertisements – worth millions of dollars was given one-sided access in Pakistan, Dawn has learnt.
The issue came to fore in the wake of Indian assertions to revoke the grant of MFN status to Pakistan – a move that might have negligible impact on Pakistan as the current regime suits India better.
Following the Uri attack and heightened tensions in the Indian-held Kashmir, Pakistani actors were threatened and unofficially banned from working in Bollywood. This was followed by Pemra’s ‘ban’ on Indian TV channels, entertainment programmes aired in Pakistan and cinema owners deciding not to screen Bollywood films.
The unilateral trade liberalisation in goods and services, after resumption of composite dialogue in 2004, benefited India whereas Pakistan’s exports stagnated.
Official statistics available with Dawn show Pakistan’s exports to India were $288.134 million in the year 2004-05 and reached $303.58m in 2015-16.Indian exports to Pakistan were $547.458m in 2004-05, and shot up to $1.779 billion in 2015-16. The tripling of exports to Pakistan is despite the fact that Islamabad has placed 1,209 products on negative list.
Unlike trade in goods being governed under a special arrangement, there is no arrangement which covers trade in services at bilateral or multilateral level between Pakistan and India.
Globally trade in services is being governed under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATs) of the WTO. Under GATs, trade can only be carried out in those services on which specific commitments were submitted to the WTO secretariat by member countries.
An official of the commerce ministry told Dawn that Pakistan has not undertaken any commitment under the GATs with regards to entertainment services. “A law to restrict Indian contents on TV, therefore, will not be a violation,” the official added.
He went on to add that the steps taken by the Pakistan Electronic Regulatory Authority (Pemra) recently aimed to regulate the illegal trade of Indian entertainment services.
“India’s GATs commitments include a list of MFN exemptions where India has made commitment in the audiovisual services in the motion picture or video tape distribution services. However, India did not make commitments in entertainment services.
“The banning of Pakistani actors, therefore, cannot be challenged in the WTO Secretariat as violation,” he explained.
Dawn approached Pemra to ascertain the arrangement under which Indian contents were being consumed in domestic market through Direct to Home (DTH) services, cable operators and local entertainment channels.
Pemra Chairman Absar Alam told Dawn that through an executive order issued under the Musharraf government in 2006 has given one sided market access to Indian channels. He said no protocol was signed to cover the business. Pemra data shows over 3 million DTH consumers in the country.
“We have approached the State Bank of Pakistan to document the illegal transfer of funds for DTH services from Pakistan to India,” Mr Alam further said. Currently, no Indian channel has landing rights in Pakistan.
Since the initiation of the composite dialogue process with India in 1998, seven rounds of talks have been held.
During the sixth round of commerce secretary level talks in November 2011, Pakistan reiterated its agreement to transition from the positive list import regime – only 1963 items were importable from India to a negative list regime and subsequently move toward full normalisation of trade relations by complete elimination of the negative list.
In March 2012, Pakistani cabinet placed 1209 items in the negative list and opened up rest of the products for trade with India. There exist no negative list for Pakistani products in India but non-tariff barriers (NTBs) are used to limit access of Pakistani products in Indian market. It is because of these unilateral benefits which compelled the Indian government to reconsider its stance on withdrawal of MFN status to Pakistan.
Major exports from India included skimmed milk, vegetables, chemical and products, tyres, cotton, fabrics of mixed or manmade fibre. Pakistan major exports to India include dry dates, gypsum, cement, chemicals, petroleum oil and oils obtained from bituminous minerals.
Pakistan and India currently use three stations for trade – trade across LoC, Wagah border and Port Qasim, Karachi.
Published in Dawn October 23rd, 2016