ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Afghanistan have reached an agreement to give six-month visas to truck drivers on a reciprocal basis to facilitate the cross-border movement of goods between the two countries.

The issuance of visas will facilitate the flow of trade, said Commerce Minister Naveed Qamar at the sidelines of an event in Islamabad on Saturday. The issuance of visas is one of the measures to facilitate trans-border trade.

On July 5, the government took a major decision to allow trade of all products to Kabul in the rupee via land routes owing to the non-availability of tradable currency through banking channels. More measures were taken to facilitate trade with Kabul since August 2021.

Islamabad mulls similar arrangement with Uzbekistan

The minister said that Pakistan was going to sign an agreement with Uzbekistan for the issuance of a six-month visa to truck drivers on a reciprocal basis. “Pakistani trucks will be able to come not only to Afghanistan but also to Uzbekistan,” Mr Qamar added.

Answering a question, the minister said that there was also a demand to allow Afghan trucks to cross the Wagah border. He said due to political tensions with India it is not possible. “We will consider this when things return to normal with India”, the minister remarked.

The minister further said that trade with Saarc countries will also be taken into consideration after improving the situation with India. Pakistan has already turned into a net importer from Afghanistan since the Taliban took control of Kabul in August 2021.

During the period, Pakistan’s exports to Afghanistan also saw a deeper drop due to the non-availability of tradable currency through banking channels. Afghanistan was the third largest export destination for Pakistani products, but the trend changed in the past couple of years.

Pakistan’s exports to Afghanistan fell by30 per cent to $717.53 million in 2021-22 from $1.018bn in 2020-21. Since Aug 15, 2021, when the Taliban took over and declared their rule over Afghanistan, Islamabad has offered Kabul — among other humanitarian assistance — waivers of duty and taxes on fresh and dried fruits, vegetables and several other products.

As a result of this decision, the import of commodities from Afghanistan posted an unprecedented increase. Pakistan’s trade surplus with Afghanistan turned into a deficit.

The imports from Afghanistan reached $801.28m in FY22 compared to $583.59m in the preceding year, showing an increase of 37pc.

In the year 2019-20, imports from Afghanistan were just $470.9m. The data showed that the massive imports from Afghanistan led to dollar outflows and cause undue pressure on the rupee. Moreover, the smuggling of dollars is believed to be another factor for continuing trade in the greenbacks.

Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2022

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