ISLAMABAD, Feb 12: Pakistan would formally initiate dialogue on signing free trade agreements (FTAs) with Nepal, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and also negotiate a preferential trade arrangement (PTA) with Morocco as part of its market access moves.

Official sources told Dawn on Saturday that the cabinet had authorized the commerce ministry to start formal negotiations in this regard.

Elaborating further, the officials said, Pakistan and China has already constituted study groups for finalizing their recommendations in a period of six months to sign an FTA.

The statistics showed that the consistent rise in the trade deficit with China during the last six years was due to rising imports of machinery/parts, textile and chemical products from China. They said that this hike was also supported by the concession in duties Pakistan has given to Chinese items in the PTA effective from the last year.

According to the officials, Pakistan and Indonesia had already started negotiations on bilateral preferential trade. Pakistan would seek concession in import duty under the proposed treaty with Indonesia on rice, fruits- kinoos and dates, potatoes, onions and wheat.

Pakistan has already given concessions in duty on maximum items to Nepal under South Asian Preferential Trade Arrangement (SAPTA) during the last years. The total volume between Pakistan and Nepal stood at $8 million in 2003-04.

Officials hoped that Pakistan would seek maximum market access for its fruits and vegetables and textile products under FTA with Malaysia.

Pakistan's bilateral trade with Morroco stood at $78.3 million during the year 2003-04. Of these Pakistan's export to Morroco stood at $16.9 million during the year under review, while Morroco export to Pakistan stood at $61.4 million during the same period.

The officials said that during the proposed PTA with Morroco, Pakistan would seek more market access for its products to bridge the trade deficit with that country.

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