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Chairman of Board of Investment (BoI), Saleem Mandviwala talking to media personnel.                  — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: In what appears to be an attempt to put relations with the US back on track, the government has decided to send senior officials to Washington for continuing engagement at a higher level for further liberalisation of trade and investment regimes between the two countries.

This will be the first official visit of any delegation after the parliament unanimously approved new guidelines for the country’s troubled relationship with the United States on April 12.

An official source told Dawn on Tuesday that the three-member official delegation would be headed by Commerce Secretary Zafar Mahmood. Board of Investment Secretary Munir Qureshi will also be part of the delegation.

The delegation, according to the official, will leave on April 22 to resume talks with senior officials of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in Washington as part of the sixth Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (Tifa) meeting.

Both countries had launched talks under Tifa since 2004 on a wide range of investment climate issues, including market access, the US Generalised System of Preferences, trade promotion efforts, intellectual property rights and sector-specific investment challenges.In Sept 2011, high officials of the two countries met in Islamabad, but no progress was made on any issue for facilitation of bilateral trade. Both countries have also failed to make progress in any area included in the negotiating agenda of the Tifa meeting for the past eight years.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s desperation for repairing its ties with the US was clear from the fact that the Chairman of Board of Investment (BoI), Saleem Mandviwala, initialled investment treaty with the US government on March 9 in Washington without even taking relevant stakeholders on board, especially of the commerce ministry.

The BoI chairman’s move sparked protest among officials of federal ministries who said the decision had been taken in haste.

According to the official, this would be a major issue for discussion during the proposed meeting in Washington. The delegation, according to the official, would justify Islamabad’s move for making delay in approving the initialled BIT document.

But contrary to this, the US was unwilling to approve the legislation for the much-awaited establishment of reconstruction opportunity zones (ROZs) in tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The products manufactured in these zones will be allowed duty-free entry into the US market.

The establishment of ROZs in the area has been one of the major demands of Pakistan since 2004 for ending poverty in terrorism-hit areas, but Washington has paid only lip-service in this regard.

In the past five meetings on Tifa, USTR officials repeated their stand that the US would work with the Congress to enact the ROZ legislation.

Even in the absence of any investment treaty between Pakistan and he US, flows of FDI from the US were much higher than those countries with whom Pakistan had initialled investment treaties in the past one decade. Pakistan had complained to the US that under the current requirement of irradiating mangoes at a plant in Iowa, commercial shipments in sizeable quantities were not a viable option.

“We hope the US will review this condition and allow pre-shipment irradiation in Pakistan. This is imperative for commercially feasible shipments of fruit to the US,” the official said.