WASHINGTON, Sept 30: Federal Commerce Minister Humayun Akhtar has assured American businessmen that Pakistan is taking steps to meet security requirements of a new US law that forbids trade with the countries that fail to improve security arrangements at their ports.

The minister gave this assurance at a meeting with the representatives of American companies that already do business with Pakistan. The United States is Pakistan's largest business partner, which imports $2.5 billion worth of goods from Pakistan every year.

"We are installing container scanners at our ports and are also conducting a thorough study to implement other requirements of this new law," the minister told Dawn after his meeting with the US businessmen.

The minister acknowledged that if the requirements of the new US law are not met, it could affect Pakistan's trade with the United States. The US Congress passed the new law in July 2002 but the US authorities started implementing it from July 1, 2004.

During this period the United States and other Western powers also got new security measures adopted by the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations arm for implementing maritime security.

At the meeting with the federal commerce minister, American businessmen said they fear that if Pakistan does not implement these new security measures, US authorities may forbid ships and containers from Pakistan from landing at US ports. They urged the minister to implement the new rules as quickly as possible.

Mr Akhtar agreed with the businessmen that failure to implement new security requirements could cause delays in exporting Pakistani goods to the United States and could also lead to penalties that increase cargo rates. "These are things that we cannot afford at all."

Pakistan, he said, is taking it very seriously because in today's world no country can afford to have such delays and penalties and hope to stay in the market. "We are trying our best to become security compliant as soon as possible.

We are in touch with relevant US agencies," he said. The minister said that by implementing the new rules, Pakistan wants to be in a position to tell the US government that the goods that arrive from Pakistan should be treated as security cleared and processed through the fast track channels.

Under the new US laws, he said, the procedure for security compliance will begin at the factory where the good is made and will cover the entire process of transportation from the factory to the port and then onwards to the United States.

"It is a new initiative and we are trying to develop a new method to comply with it," he said. Talking about another complaint raised by US businessmen, the minister said Pakistan's banking system was already vibrant and reformed but if there are some procedures that caused delays, we always are willing to correct them.

APP ADDS: During a meeting with the US Commerce Secretary, Donald L. Evans at the Department of Commerce, Federal Commerce Minister Humayun Akhtar Khan stressed the need for further expansion and consolidation of trade and commerce ties between Pakistan and the United States, and said these should be based on strategic considerations and not merely on commercial grounds.

Humayun Akhtar briefed Evans on the state of bilateral trade relations and pleaded Pakistan's case for lowering of tariff on Pakistani exports and to accord market access to Pakistani products.

US Commerce Secretary appreciated the problems facing the Pakistani exports and assured to look into these favourably. In its meeting on Tuesday, the Joint Council, formed under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), decided to negotiate Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT)- formal talks of which begin Thursday (Sept 30). The BOI chairman will represent Pakistan at the BIT talks.