ISLAMABAD, July 8: Pakistan is ready to discuss trade issues with India once the political dialogue gets under way following the forthcoming round of secretary level composite talks between the two countries on August 10-11 in Islamabad.

This was stated by commerce minister Humayun Akhtar Khan at a press conference here on Thursday. He said the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (Safta), that would be fully in place by 2015, would improve Pakistan's regional and bilateral trade.

He said it was now Pakistan's policy to diversify not only the export products but also the export markets and try to reduce duties on exports to countries with which it had market access through regional and bilateral agreements.

He said under this strategy, Islamabad has signed preferential trade agreement (PTA) with China and ECO countries while it was close to sign the PTA with Iran and expected with Turkey when the prime minister visits there next year. Similarly, free trade agreements (FTAs) with China is also expected to be signed shortly, the minister said.

Responding to a question about the trade policy 2004-05, the minister said although the cabinet meeting has not been held as yet, the trade policy would be presented to the cabinet and announced within the current month. He assured consistency in trade policy.

Responding to another query, Humayun said the Pakistan Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Act has been approved by the cabinet and would be presented to the parliament shortly. He said the US has put Pakistan on priority watch list on IPR issue but this would have no impact on Pakistan's trade. He said there had been marked decline in optical piracy in Pakistan.

Answering a question on wheat import, the minister said the Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) had received international tenders for the import of 500,000 tons of wheat and the four- member ministerial committee would take a decision on this shortly. He said remaining 500,000 tons of

wheat of the total one million would be imported in due course of time.

Responding to another question, he said the federal cabinet had decided to import 500,000 million tons in December last year. Of this, the shipment of 150,000 tons of Australian wheat was rejected and the decision to import remaining 350,000 tons was cancelled.

Asked whether wheat scandal was one of the factors in the un-publicised charge sheet that led to the resignation of former prime minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, the minister said no such issue was ever come up for consideration before the cabinet. He, however, said he was thankful to the party for considering him for the premiership.

Talking about Pakistan's trade performance, the minister said up to June 30, 2004, exports were recorded at $12.3 billion, exceeding the year's target of $12.1 billion - second time in a row. This meant an increase of 9.5 per cent over the preceding year.

The sector-wise and product-wise break-down of the exports was not available at the moment. In the eleven months, however, the exports increased to $11.1 billion, compared with $9.9 billion in the same period of 2002-03, showing an increase of 11.8 per cent.

The highest export performance has come in textile sector, which registered a 12 per cent increase, from $6.66 billion in July-May last year to $7.46 billion in July-May 2003-04.

Within the textile sector, the highest growth has come at 29 per cent in the value-added knitwear category, increasing from $1 billion to $1.3 billion. This is followed by 26 per cent growth in cotton fabrics, increasing from $1.8 billion to $2.2 billion.

Two other billion dollar categories are cotton yarn whose exports increased by 22 per cent from $0.9 billion to $1.1 billion, and bed-linen that grew by seven per cent from $1.18 billion to $1.26 billion.

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