ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Iran on Wednesday discussed full resumption of bilateral trade, which was halted last month because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The two sides stressed the need to reactivate borders and border markets and strengthen trade ties by following health guidelines,” a statement issued by the Iranian presidency on the telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Dr Hassan Rouhani said.
President Rouhani had called the prime minister for Ramazan greetings.
Border trade between the two countries was suspended after a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC), held on March 13, decided to close all borders because of the pandemic.
Islamabad partially relaxed the restrictions on April 21, allowing the import of certain food items and provision of petrol and diesel to the border areas. Cargo traffic from Iran was allowed for three days every week.
Cargo movement between the two countries takes place through five border crossings — Taftan, Gwadar, Turbat, Panjgur and Washuk. The first consignments from Iran began arriving this week.
Pakistan’s exports to Iran, however, remain suspended.
Bilateral trade is negligible because of US sanctions on Iran and absence of banking relations between the two countries. Last year the volume of bilateral trade was $392 million.
President Rouhani hoped that reopening of border markets of the two countries, while observing health protocols, would contribute to the development of trade and economic relations. “We are interested in exchanging goods and trade with Pakistan as well as with some neighbouring countries through the borders,” Mr Rouhani told Prime Minister Imran Khan, according to the statement by the Iranian presidency.
Mr Khan welcomed the resumption of bilateral trade at the borders and hoped the move would be beneficial for both countries.
The Iranian president called for implementation of the agreements between the two countries.
Mr Rouhani, while thanking PM Khan for seeking lifting of US sanctions against Iran, expressed hopes that Pak-Iran trade and economic ties would strengthen with the passage of time.
Removal of sanctions against Iran has been part of Pakistan’s messaging during its diplomatic outreach over the past few months. Islamabad contends that lifting of sanctions would enable Tehran to use its own resources to tackle the epidemic, which has killed over 5,900 people there. In one of his pressers, Imran Khan had denounced the sanctions as “unjust”.
Mr Rouhani had in a letter to Mr Khan last month pointed out the challenges Iran faced in the fight against coronavirus, including the crippling US sanctions.
Iran’s presidency said the two leaders condemned prejudice and pressure against Muslims in India and expressed support for them.
Indian Muslims are being blamed for the spread of the coronavirus disease. The allegations stigmatised nearly 200 million Muslims and exposed them to increased risk of social exclusion and violence.
Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2020