ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has assured Afghanistan of resolution of blockade of Afghan containers containing perishable items and fuel within next ten days, as both countries agreed at the two day joint economic commission meeting to enhance bilateral trade from $2.5 billion to $5 billion by 2015.
Addressing a joint news conference, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh along with his Afghan counterpart Hazrat Omar Zakhiwal said both sides agreed to hold JEC meetings on regular basis to address various issues that hamper promotion of bilateral trade and investment. The meeting of JEC was held after a gap of three years.The minister assured that problems faced by Afghan traders due to blockade of containers would be removed within the next 10 days. He said it was noted that there was huge bilateral trade potential which remains unutilised and it was decided to enhance bilateral trade to $5 billion within next three years.
As the Afghan side sought assistance in oil and gas exploration, power generation, construction and mining sectors, Pakistan offered machinery and equipment to Afghanistan. The state owned Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) will be helping Afghanistan to develop hydel power generation on Kabul River for export in the region. Similarly the national flagship Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL) would help the neighbouring country in oil and gas exploration while the two state owned gas utilities, SNGPL and SSGC will provide assistance for developing transmission network.The minister said both sides agreed to establish a joint chamber of commerce and industry to identify areas for promoting bilateral trade and investment. It was agreed to explore possibility of entering into agreement for promotion of bilateral trade. It was also agreed that both sides would establish display centers at Kabul and Karachi for promotion of bilateral trade.
Afghan Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhiwal said both the countries have unfortunately not been able to utilise the immense bilateral trade potential, even though there is a political will of the leadership of both the countries in this regard.Seeking investment from Pakistan, he said investors from all over the world were coming to Afghanistan but Pakistani investors were shy due to some misperceptions, that they were not welcomed to the country. “Afghanistan will welcome Pakistani investment in exploration, hydel power, constructing and mineral sectors”.
He said there were many irritants in Afghan transit trade through Pakistan and if they were not removed they could cause a big impact on promoting bilateral trade. He suggested going beyond irritants to promote the access of people and trade. He said Afghanistan could be a “land bridge” for connecting South Asia and Central Asian which will benefit the people of the region.About irritants he said Pakistan has stopped transit of NATO containers which has also resulted in blockade of 700 Afghan containers having perishable items and fuel supplies. He stressed speedy resolution of the issue. Similarly he said misunderstanding on declaration of goods was causing delay in the release of transit consignments.Hafeez Shaikh said issues related to transit trade between the two countries under Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement would be resolved to operationalise it. He said issue of insurance guarantees would be discussed to resolve the issue.
He said the meeting also reviewed progress on 29 projects being developed in Afghanistan, under Pakistan’s 300 million assistance. He said both countries agreed to expedite completion of Torkham Jalalabad carriageway within one year as already 70 per cent construction work was complete.Pakistan, he said, has asked Afghanistan to provide encroachment free route to initiate process for establishing Chamman- Spinboldak-Kandhar railway line. He said setting up of Liaquat Ali Khan Engineering faculty, Nishtar Kideny Center and 2000 scholarships to Afghan students, CASA 1000 and TAPI pipeline were also discussed. Pakistan exports to Afghanistan were $2.3 billion and imports were of $172 million in fiscal year 2010-2011.
Afghan finance minister also called upon petroleum minister Dr Asim Hussain and discussed supply of jet fuel to Afghanistan. Petroleum minister sought permission for the state owned oil marketing company, Pakistan State Oil, to start its operation in Afghanistan. Afghan delegation welcomed the offer and assured complete cooperation to the company to start its operations.