WASHINGTON, April 14: Pakistan’s trade with India is linked to the political situation and the trade talks will continue only as long as the political dialogue continues, Commerce Minister Humayun Akhtar Khan told a briefing here on Thursday. The minister said that although there were only 780 items on “the positive list”, which identified the goods that could be traded with India, “the trade balance is hugely in favour of India”.

He said New Delhi wanted Islamabad to grant the most favoured nation (MFN) status to India but Pakistan could not do that right away as it would further tilt the balance in favour of India.

The minister said that during the last two years, the trade with India had doubled and Pakistan had asked India to review its tariff and non-tariff barriers if it wanted the trade to expand further.

“But the trade with India is linked to politics. We will discuss about trade if there is a substantial political dialogue with India,” the minister added.

Mr Khan said Pakistan’s exports for this fiscal year

were projected to exceed $14 billion. During the current quarter, exports recorded an increase of 32 per cent over the same quarter last fiscal year. Exports last year totalled $12.4 billion.

The minister, who is scheduled to meet US commerce secretary, the acting US trade representative and other senior officials later this week, said Pakistan had overcome the problems it was facing in exporting textiles to the United States and “now we have a booming market both in the United States and Europe”.

The minister said exports to the US totalled $3 billion, while Pakistan was importing $1.2 billion worth of goods from America. “The real imports are even less but last year imports increased because we purchased Boeing aircraft from this country,” he added.

Exports to Europe, he said, had also increased and now stood at $3.5 billion.

The minister told the briefing that “primary objective” of his discussions in Washington would be to seek a better market access for Pakistan and gradually move to a preferential treatment for Pakistani exports. “We would also seek to remove some of the barriers that adversely affect our exports.”

Mr Khan, who came to Washington after visiting several Latin American countries, said Pakistan could expand its exports to the South American region as well where there was a market for Pakistani textile, leather, leather garments, fisheries and rice.

The commerce minister said that from January 1, China would allow duty free access to 766 Pakistani goods, while China would also be able to export some raw materials, machineries and some fruits and vegetables to Pakistan free of duty.

Asked what Pakistan could do to stop the influx of Chinese goods in Pakistani markets, the minister said: “There’s a 25 per cent duty on Chinese products. If Pakistani products cannot compete with the Chinese products despite this duty, there’s not much we can do.”

He pointed out that some Pakistani products, such as bedlinen and raw materials, were very popular in China and Pakistan planned to increase their export.

The minister said that Pakistan could greatly benefit from trade with Central Asia but this could only happen if there was peace in Afghanistan.

Besides access, there were trade barriers in those countries that make it difficult for Pakistan to penetrate their markets.

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