Public-private dialogue to be backbone of forthcoming trade policy framework: DG

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LAHORE: Ministry of Commerce Director General (DG) Trade Policy Noman Aslam has said that the Ministry of Commerce’s (MoC’s) forthcoming Strategic Trade Policy Framework (STPF) 2018-2023 will be formulated while incorporating the insight obtained from constructive and broad-based engagement between the public and private sectors, with a view towards addressing Pakistan’s gradual decline in export competitiveness over the past 20 years.

He stated this while addressing a roundtable ‘Achieving Export Competitiveness in Pakistan’ held under the auspicious of SDPI, here on Tuesday.

Charting the development of Pakistan’s trade policy over the last decade, Noman Aslam highlighted Pakistan’s movement towards a more forward-looking and longer-term approach since 2009, when the MoC drafted its first 3-year STPF. In this regard, he mentioned the Ministry’s forthcoming trade policy framework, which will be valid for 5 years, between 2018 and 2023.

Speaking on Pakistan’s decline in exports over the last 2 decades, World Bank Group (WBG) Senior Economist Gonzalo J Varela presented the detail of country’s challenges in penetrating more diverse export markets and leveraging global value chains as a vehicle of sustained economic growth.

He explained how Pakistan’s overall share of the global export market had declined in comparison to peer economies such as India and Bangladesh, even though the country’s exports had increased in absolute terms. To reverse this decline, he recommended more market and product diversification and measures to improve the quality and sophistication of Pakistan’s export basket.

Providing further insight on the decline of trade and investment in Pakistan, WBG Senior Economist Nadia Rocha recommended introducing modern trade facilitation measures and a flexible exchange rate mechanism in the country. She recommended measures to reduce the cost of doing business, with a few towards creating a more favourable climate for foreign direct investment. In this regard, she also highlighted the need for greater trade liberalisation efforts, which can boost productivity and export competitiveness in Pakistan.

Earlier, SDPI Deputy Executive Director Dr Vaqar Ahmed highlighted key issues identified by the business community in the context of nation-wide consultations held by the organisation. He explained how, despite recent investments in the energy sector, the cost of energy was still higher than in regional economies, reducing the competitiveness of local industries.

He highlighted how local business competitiveness was being eroded by the imposition of multiple taxes by numerous revenue authorities at the federal and provincial levels. He explained how these same businesses faced audits by multiple tax bodies, leading to double taxation and higher compliance costs.

To address the decline in Pakistan’s export competitiveness, Dr Vaqar Ahmed recommended reducing the overall regulatory burden on businesses, especially in terms of registration and compliance with tax, environment, labour and building regulations. In this regard, he also called for greater public-private cooperation to encourage the adoption of productivity-enhancing technologies and improve sophistication and quality of Pakistan’s export basket.

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