ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s exports to Tajikistan plunged 40 per cent owing to tariff restrictions and non-availability of cost-effective transportation system.

The biggest bottleneck for Pakistani companies in sending their cargoes to Tajikistan was the non-availability of direct air links between the two countries restricting trade volume.

In 2016, Tajikistan’s Somon Air had started direct flights from Lahore to Dushanbe, but suspended its operations due to non-viability from commercial point of view.

Official data compiled by the Ministry of Commerce showed that exports to Tajikistan dropped to $4.5m in 2015-16 from $7.5m in 2014-15. But imports, mainly of raw cotton, increased to $11.16m from $0.068m during the same period. In the year 2004, Pakistan had approved a summary to initiate talks on a preferential trade agreement with Tajikistan. Both sides agreed in 2011 to hold discussion on the draft PTA after the accession of Tajikistan to the World Trade Organisation.

According to the official, Tajikistan became member of WTO in 2013, but now is unwilling to pursue bilateral arrangements with Pakistan. “Our mission in Dushanbe has already approached for initiation of talks on PTA several times, but Tajikistan deemed individual PTA with Pakistan as premature,” the official said.

Pakistan also proposed a Trilateral Transit Trade Agreement with Afghanistan and Tajikistan in 2012. The draft was prepared by the Ministry of Commerce in consultation with all stakeholders. Pakistan has already prepared draft of the transit agreement and held so far two meetings to finalise the text of the agreement.

They have agreed in 2015 to hold the third meeting to finalise the draft. So far no meeting was convened owing to Afghanistan major proposal to include India in the agreement making it quadrilateral one. This change in Kabul’s approach towards transit trade has delayed the much-awaited trilateral transit trade agreement.

According to official source, Pakistan is also exploring other options including access to Central Asia including Tajikistan through Wakhan border. A road link can be established from Chitral to Ishkashim (Tajikistan) through Wakhan border. If this link is established, Pakistan’s dependency on Afghanistan can be dealt with.

Furthermore, registration of pharmaceutical products is also a cumbersome procedure and takes around 3-6 months with the registration fees ranging from $2,500-3,000 per medicine. Major items of export include raw sugar, dairy products, medical and pharmaceutical products, construction materials including cement, and cutlery.

Raw cotton, chemical materials and products and glass and glassware etc are imported from Tajikistan.

Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2015