ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has formally asked China to encourage its products — mainly the eatables — into its market to contain tilted expansion in bilateral trade and focus on future administration of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) after completion of ongoing projects.

The message was given by Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Sartaj Aziz to Chinese Ambassador in Islamabad Yao Jing on Tuesday.

According to sources, Mr Aziz told the ambassador that China needed to facilitate Pakistani exports to its market as only a few Pakistani products were imported by China.

He said the construction of CPEC-related projects would be completed soon and the focus should now shift to its future administration for which rules and regulations should be worked out without loss of time to avoid complications in future. “Hardware side of the CPEC project is being implemented, but we also need to focus on the software side that includes policies, agendas and strategies,” Mr Aziz said, adding that Pakistan’s current focus was on building industrial parks.

He asked the envoy to send an experts’ team to Islamabad to study Pakistan’s rules and regulations related to exports because at present there were only a few Pakistani products that could make their entry into Chinese market. This was important because Pakistani industry had not yet reached a stage where its exportable surplus could make an impact in China, Mr Aziz added.

The Chinese ambassador suggested that Pakistani sugar that was surplus in production had good chances of making inroads in his country. Mr Aziz, however, emphasised that not only sugar but China should also promote other products, including meat, fish, fruits and vegetables for its domestic use.

Mr Aziz said that both Pakistan and China enjoyed remarkable relations since beginning (of their friendship), but President Xi Jinping and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had taken the relationship to new heights through the CPEC. He said that despite economic crisis among Asian countries, China’s economic success served as a role model for the rest of the countries in the region.

With the region’s economic success, the balance of power would shift from West to East and Asia would become an engine of growth, he added.

Mr Aziz said the CPEC was now at a take-off stage where all political parties and people of Pakistan were united on the economic corridor providing their full support to that framework of national development.

The Chinese ambassador and the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission also discussed issues related to trade between the two countries and in the region.

Of late, Pakistan has been reluctant to finalise second round of negotiations on the China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement unless China agrees to facilitate duty-free export of around six dozen items of Islamabad’s priority. Islamabad has also been seeking safeguards relating to local industry from Chinese imports, detailed mechanism for balance of payments clauses and other trade reduction modalities that Pakistan missed out in first phase of the FTA leading to a tilted expansion in trade.

The bilateral trade has expanded from about $4 billion 10 years ago when the FTA was signed by the two sides to almost $14bn last year, but imports from China have surged by 380 per cent to $12bn from $2.5bn, while Pakistan’s exports have increased by 195pc to $1.7bn from $570 million.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2018