WASHINGTON: The United States and Pakistan will hold their first ministerial-level meeting on trade in Washington on Thursday which, Islamabad hopes, will gain greater access to the US market for its mangoes and software.
US Trade Representative (USTR) “Ambassador Katherine Tai will host a meeting under the US-Pakistan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with Pakistan’s Minister of Commerce Syed Naveed Qamar” in Washington on Thursday, her office said in a statement.
The Biden administration’s chief trade administrator Ambassador Doug McKalip and Assistant United Trade Representative Chris Wilson will also attend the meeting. “This meeting is closed to the press,” the statement added.
Mr Qamar reached Washington on Tuesday with a team of senior officials on a three-day visit for talks on trade and investment.
“We are looking for increased trade in information technology and agricultural goods,” he told reporters in Washington on Wednesday. “We are looking forward to exporting more mangoes to the United States,” he added.
Pakistan has made several attempts to bring its mangoes to the US market but the lack of irradiation facilities at home has not allowed this trade to expand.
Talks under TIFA begin today to improve economic cooperation
With a bilateral trade volume of $12 billion, the US remains the largest export market for Pakistani products.
According to the USTR’s office, Pakistan exported more than $5.9bn worth of goods to the US in 2022. Pakistan also imported more than $3.17bn worth of goods from the US.
In 2021, Pakistan exported $5.27bn of goods to the US while imports totalled $3.61bn. In 2020, exports totalled $3.89bn, and imports stood at $2.91bn. In all these years, Pakistan’s exports to the US were higher than its imports.
On Monday, Pakistan urged US lawmakers to expedite legislation for the renewal of the Generalised System of Preference (GSP) programme for developing countries.
Pakistan is among the top 10 beneficiaries of the programme. Approximately 6-8pc of US imports from Pakistan were being made under the GSP arrangement.
Last year, Pakistan and the US decided to revive the TIFA framework after almost eight years as part of a greater effort to rebuild their relations. Earlier this month, they also held defence and security talks while a US delegation visited Pakistan for talks on strategic and economic ties, including the war on terrorism.
The previous round of TIFA talks focused on the new template of the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), establishing a Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in Pakistan and the certification of Pakistani pharmaceutical companies.
TIFA provides a strategic framework and principles for dialogue on trade and investment issues between the United States and the other parties to the agreement. The United States and its TIFA partners consult on a wide range of issues, such as possible further cooperation, market access issues, labour, the environment, protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, and capacity building. The United States has TIFAs with countries at different levels of development and trade. TIFA Councils normally meet at least once a year at senior levels of government.
“It is important that we start talking,” the commerce minister told the Reuters news agency. “These were supposed to be annual meetings, but for one reason or another, they have been on the back burner for so long. Now that we are starting, there are many areas where we expect some breakthroughs, and that is on both sides.”
Mr Qamar said Pakistan wanted smooth, increased trade in information technology, computer programming services and agricultural goods. The US side was looking to boost exports of beef and soybeans. “When we talk about trade, we’re talking about the entire spectrum, but we’re focusing on these things because that’s where things would start happening right away,” he said.
Published in Dawn, February 23th, 2023