ISLAMABAD: With a change in the federal government, the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) has ruled out the possibility of a resumption of stalled bilateral trade with India.
The response came from the commerce ministry over the widespread speculation on social media that the new government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is considering a proposal to resume trade with its arch rival India.
“There is no change in Pakistan’s policy on trade with India,” an official announcement from the commerce ministry said.
An official source in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat told Dawn that the appointment of a trade officer in New Delhi is one of the routine postings, adding that the post of trade officer in the Pakistan embassy in New Delhi has been vacant for years.
The prime minister has approved a senior officer of the Commerce and Trade Group, Qamar Zaman, for posting in New Delhi. He is one of the 15 officers appointed for posting in various countries. “The selection process for the appointment of all these trade officers was started by the previous government,” the official in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat said.
“We have not changed anything in the summary of the previous government,” the source said, adding the selection process was found on merit.
According to a source in the commerce ministry, the appointment of a new trade officer in New Delhi, like the previous two before him, will not get a visa and his time will end. Therefore, it is unlikely that India will grant a visa to the new officer appointed by Islamabad for posting in New Delhi if India follows its previous policy.
The source added that earlier, the government appointed two trade officers for posting in New Delhi but they were denied visas.
According to the announcement, the MoC manages 57 trade missions in 46 countries, which includes the post of Minister (Trade and Investment) in New Delhi, India.
The post of Minister (Trade and Investment) in New Delhi has existed for more than two decades and has no connection with the operationalisation of trade with India or otherwise in the current context.
The current cycle for the selection of Trade and Investment Officers (TIOs), including New Delhi, was initiated in December, 2021, and the final recommendations of the Interview Board were sent to the Prime Minister’s Office on April 1 of the previous government.
The present government has given final approval to the recommendations of the previous government for the selection of 15 TIOs.
The appointment of the Minister (Trade and Investment) in New Delhi, therefore, may not be seen in the context of any relaxation of trade restrictions with India, added the statement.
On August 19, 2019, Pakistan formally downgraded its trade relations with India to the level of Israel, with which Islamabad has no trade ties at all.
In reaction to India’s decision to revoke Article 370 of its constitution that granted occupied Kashmir a special status, Pakistan has downgraded diplomatic relations with India and now suspended bilateral trade with it.
According to a source, former security adviser Moeed Yousuf was working on some proposals regarding trade with India. On record, former commerce adviser Razak Dawood also spoke on several occasions for the resumption of trade with India.
In March 2021, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) announced it would allow the private sector to import 0.5 million tonnes of white sugar from India and cotton via the Wagah border. However, the decision was reversed within days following severe criticism from the main opposition parties—PML-N and PPP—who are now in a coalition government.
The country’s exports to India plunged 54.2 per cent to $1.006m in nine months (July to March FY22) from $2.197 in FY21. The imports from India stood at $139.334m in the first nine months of this year, almost at the same level as last year.
Pakistan has suspended trade relations with New Delhi. However, since the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government has only allowed the import of pharmaceutical products from India. The only related imports from India were pharmaceuticals.
Baqir Sajjad adds: Meanwhile, the Foreign Office (FO) in a statement said that the appointment of a Minister (Trade and Investment) in New Delhi may not be seen in the context of any relaxation of trade restrictions with India.
The FO, while explaining the appointment, said the post of Minister (Trade and Investment) in New Delhi has existed for more than two decades and has no connection with the operationalisation of trade with India or otherwise in the current context.
In a letter to his Indian counterpart after assuming office, PM Shehbaz had emphasised the need for “peaceful and cooperative ties” between the two neighbours for the progress and socio-economic uplift of their people and the region.
The National Security Policy launched by the former PTI government earlier in January had suggested development of trade and business ties as part of its focus on economic diplomacy and peace in the neighbourhood.
Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2022