ISLAMABAD: In what appears to be a big challenge, Pakistan has to harness its potential through appropriate policies and reforms, said Deputy Director General of World Trade Organisation (WTO) Frederick Yonov Agah.
He referred to a vast pool of natural resources, a strategic geographical position and a large, willing and young labour force as potential, but considered its utilisation a challenge because it requires reforms.
He suggested that the reforms should be broad based, like improving business climate, liberalising trade regime and greater integration into the world economy.
While talking to Dawn during a visit to review country’s trade policy, Agah said that Pakistan faces a myriad of adverse circumstances such as security environment and recurring natural disasters.
“However, Pakistan’s economy has proved to be extremely resilient,” he remarked.
He acknowledged the country’s role in formulation of Bali package for Doha Development Agenda.
Commenting on expected gains this year in Nairobi, where WTO will be celebrating its 20 years, he said much will depend on member countries negotiations. The ministerial enable the members to hold talks on trade issues.
Over Regional Trade Agreements (RTA) and Bilateral Trade Agreements (BTA), Agah said the multilateral trading system exists side-by-side with these agreements.
“Whatever outcomes you get become multi-lateralise for the benefit of all members taking into account the principal of MFN,” he remarked.
He said the key objective of trade review is to assess the set of policy options over time. The information will not be used for any other purposes including dispute settlement.
The WTO secretariat has established an advisory centre which will help the member countries in preparing cases for dispute settlement. However, he suggested that member countries can seek help of the secretariat in getting technical assistance to build domestic capacity on WTO rules and laws.
Applied tariffs have been generally reduced all over the world mostly as a result of unilateral liberalisation, however, non-tariff barriers have increased. Asked whether WTO focusing on behind the border measures that are often used as regulatory mechanisms, he said it is for the members to agree on the agenda.
Agriculture is an unfinished agenda of the Uruguay round because the progress achieved was the maximum outcome possible at that time. He said it will be difficult to strike a balance between agriculture and industrial tariff negotiations.
The issue of the balance is because what is good for developed countries in agriculture is not good for most of the developing countries. The issue is of how to strike a balance which is the mandate of the member countries, he said.
The aid for trade concept was adopted at the Hong Kong ministerial, he said, adding that the concept was to help poor countries to build their capacity to harness their potential.
On a question of role for WTO in the sustainable development goals, he said trade is considered as enabler not means to achieve goals.
“We want the WTO to be considered a development policy tool,” he said and referred the case of China where poverty witnessed substantial decline because of growth in trade.
Regarding trade facilitation agreement, he said it will help developing countries to get maximum benefits.
He cited example of Africa where harmonisation of customs procedure between Kenya, Youganda and Rwanda has reduced transaction costs from $5,000 to less than $1,000 per container. Also it helps to reduce border clearance time from one month to a day.
He said Pakistan can also get benefits from China-Pakistan Economic Corridor after ratifying the agreement.
Plurilateral agreements are increasing such as Government Procurement Agreement, ITA, Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA), Trade in Services Agreement, Transpacific Partnership Agreement. “I think all these agreements are good”.
He said Pakistan should provide overall framework on trade policy which needs to be sequenced and time bound. This will help members to tell where the country is placed in the next review.
Published in Dawn, October 18th , 2015