DUBAI: Pakistan will pursue individual trade deals with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, a senior official said on Sunday, as talks with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) remain stalled.

The GCC, which includes those three countries plus Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, started free trade talks with Pakistan in 2004. It has not implemented a free trade deal since 2015.

Talking to Reuters, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood expressed the hope that bilateral negotiations for preferential trade deals with the three Gulf Arab states would start in the next 6-12 months. “We feel it is far better to do individual [deals] at the moment rather than with the GCC as a bloc,” he said in Dubai.

A preferential trade deal typically gives certain products preferential access such as by reducing or removing tariffs.

Mr Dawood said the negotiations would cover a limited number of goods and would not be as comprehensive as a free trade agreement, though over time the deals, if secured, could be expanded. He did not say which goods Pakistan would seek to include.

The UAE announced this month that it would seek broad economic agreements covering trade and investments with eight countries, including India, Britain and Turkey, but not Pakistan.

Saudi, Emirati and Omani officials could not be immediately reached for comment on the Pakistani official’s statement.

Mr Dawood is in Dubai to assess preparations for Pakistan’s participation in the six-month Expo world fair being held there from next month. He said Pakistan would highlight safety and diversity at the Expo which, he hoped, would lead to an increase in the number of tourists and investments in the South Asian nation.

This month, New Zealand’s cricket team pulled out of an upcoming tour of Pakistan over security concerns.

“We were not expecting something like this to happen and that is the type of perception that we have to overcome,” Mr Dawood said.

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2021

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