Pakistan and Gulf Cooperation Council sign ‘preliminary’ free trade agreement

Special Pakistan and Gulf Cooperation Council sign ‘preliminary’ free trade agreement
Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Jassem Mohamed Albudaiwi, right, and Dr. Gohar Ejaz, Pakistan's minister of commerce sign preliminary Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the GCC and Pakistan in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on September 28, 2023. (Photo courtesy: GCC)
Short Url
Updated 29 September 2023
Follow

Pakistan and Gulf Cooperation Council sign ‘preliminary’ free trade agreement

Pakistan and Gulf Cooperation Council sign ‘preliminary’ free trade agreement
  • Pakistani commerce ministry calls deal “milestone in both sides' economic cooperation”
  • FTA to enhance Pakistani exports to GCC nations through the removal of trade barriers

KARACHI: Pakistan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have signed a “preliminary” free trade agreement (FTA), Pakistan’s commerce ministry announced on Friday, calling it a “milestone in both sides' economic cooperation.”

The preliminary FTA was signed by the Secretary General of the GCC, Jassem Mohamed Albudaiwi, and Dr. Gohar Ejaz, Minister of Commerce for Pakistan, on Thursday at the headquarters of the General Secretariat in Riyadh.

Last year, both sides held technical-level talks to examine the possibility of signing a free trade agreement that could help Pakistan boost its exports to the six-country bloc, which includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait. In March this year, a delegation of senior Pakistani diplomats met top GCC officials in Riyadh to discuss the agreement’s modalities. Last week, the foreign minister of Pakistan also met the GCC Secretary General and called for the “early conclusion” of the FTA.

“This is a significant development as the FTA is the first by GCC with any country since 2009 and marks a milestone in both sides' economic cooperation,” the Pakistan commerce ministry said in a statement.




Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Jassem Mohamed Albudaiwi, right, and Dr. Gohar Ejaz, Pakistan's minister of commerce shake hands after signing preliminary Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the GCC and Pakistan in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on September 28, 2023. (Photo courtesy: GCC)

The GCC also released a statement, saying the “historic” agreement represented “an important turning point in cooperation and would contribute to growth and prosperity in a way that serves the common interests of both sides.”

“GCC countries are moving forward with the file of free trade negotiations with other countries, aiming to open and enhance the prospects for trade and economic cooperation for the Council member states regionally and internationally.”

The preliminary deal will now be followed by an internal administrative and approval process before the final agreement is signed and comes into effect.

Muhammad Zubair Motiwala, Chief Executive Officer at the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP), the country’s export promotion arm, called the signing of the preliminary FTA a “positive step for export growth.”

“This is a very positive development which would help Pakistan to boost its exports to GCC countries,” Motiwala, who is also the chairman Businessmen Group (BMG) at the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), said.

Furqan Abdul Qadir, who serves as the Director of the Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Business Council at the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), said the FTA would help enhance trade with Gulf nations.  

“FTA is a basic tool to enhance trade between the nations and this step is very welcoming because of the future growing market of Middle East,” Qadir said. “There is huge potential for trade enhancement and investment in the GCC region as countries including Saudi Arabia are rapidly growing.”

The share of Pakistani exports to the Saudi market was very limited, Qadir said, an issue that would be addressed through the removal of trade barriers under the FTA.

Ahsan Mehanti, a director at the Pakistan-UAE Business Council at the FPCCI, said the FTA would provide a competitive level playing to Pakistan compared with its South Asian neighbors including India and Bangladesh.  

 “The FTA will increase trade volume with GCC nations because if we compare our trade [with GCC] with India, it is doing well in GCC, while we are lagging,” Mehanti said.

The signing of the FTA comes as Pakistan is pushing to pitch an improved business climate and its potential for foreign direct investment in a range of sectors. In June the South Asian nation set up a Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) — a civil-military hybrid forum — to fast-track decision making and promote investment from foreign nations, particularly Gulf countries.

The council has identified five sectors as priority, namely agriculture, mining, information technology, defense production and energy, as Pakistan deals with a balance of payments crisis and requires billions of dollars in foreign exchange to finance its trade deficit and repay its international debts in the current financial year.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani said the SIFC forum had become “extremely popular” among international investors and was attracting interest from Middle Eastern countries.

“There are a lot of MOUs and agreements which are in the works, and we are expecting delegations from respective GCC countries very soon,” Jilani said, adding that agreements would be finalized in the fields of agriculture, information technology, mines, and minerals, energy, and defense production, mostly as joint ventures.

“This [FTA] will help us meet our export growth targets and increase investment from GCC countries in Pakistan," said Mehanti at the Pakistan-UAE Business Council. 

"It will also help Pakistan to meet the objectives of the SIFC.”


Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches

Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches

Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches
  • Pakistan’s eastern Rawalpindi city will host Pakistan Super League matches from March 2-10
  • Snipers, police to be stationed along ‘critical routes’ and at rooftops near stadium says state media

ISLAMABAD: The administration in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi has taken “extensive measures” to provide security to players and citizens as the city gears up to host the remaining matches of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2024 tournament next month, state-run media reported on Thursday.
Pakistan’s eastern city of Rawalpindi will host PSL matches from March 2-10. PSL matches every year draw thousands of people to stadiums in Lahore, Multan, Karachi and Rawalpindi, where matches are usually held. The PSL also features apart from local cricket stars, international cricketers of renown. 
The Rawalpindi administration has finalized a security plan ahead of the tournament’s matches, the Associate Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report, amid a surge in militant attacks across the country. 
“Under the security plan finalized for PSL matches, over 5,000 police personnel, including elite forces, would be deployed to provide foolproof security cover to the matches,” the APP said. 
It said the security plan includes closing stations, managing traffic, and “strict surveillance” to ensure the safety of the cricketers, officials and spectators. 
It said around 750 police officers would be tasked with managing the teams’ movement from the Islamabad airport across the districts of Attock and Rawalpindi.
“Snipers, along with police equipped with advanced security tools, would be stationed along critical routes and rooftops near the stadium,” the report said. “These measures are designed to ensure a secure environment for the event.”
It said Rwalpindi’s traffic police has also developed a traffic management plan to cope with the expected increase in vehicles during the matches. 
Pakistani authorities have been wary of attacks targeting cricketers and cricket events, especially since 2009 when militants attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. The incident scared international teams from touring Pakistan, forcing the South Asian country to choose the UAE as its home ground for several years before international teams started touring the country again.
Pakistan has seen a surge in militant violence, especially in its western regions bordering Afghanistan, since November 2022 after a fragile truce between the state and the Pakistani Taliban broke down.


India’s basmati rice exports to fall as Pakistan’s surge

India’s basmati rice exports to fall as Pakistan’s surge
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

India’s basmati rice exports to fall as Pakistan’s surge

India’s basmati rice exports to fall as Pakistan’s surge
  • Pakistan offering basmati rice at competitive prices amid rebound in production
  • India, Pakistan are leading exporters of rice to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and UAE

MUMBAI: India’s basmati rice exports are likely to fall in 2024 after nearing a record high last year, as rival Pakistan is offering the grain at competitive prices amid a rebound in production, industry officials said.
India and Pakistan are the leading exporters of the premium long-grain variety of rice, famous for its aroma, to countries such as Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
India’s exports of basmati rice surged 11.5 percent from a year earlier to 4.9 million metric tons in 2023, just shy of the record high of 5 million tons hit in 2020, on lower supplies from Pakistan and stocking efforts by importing countries, industry officials said.
Basmati rice shipments helped the world’s biggest rice exporter to garner a record $5.4 billion in 2023, up nearly 21 percent from the previous year, because of higher prices, government data showed.
“Last year, buyers were hustling to stock up when Pakistan was facing production issues. This year, however, Pakistan offers lower prices than India due to increased production,” Vijay Setia, a leading exporter based in Haryana state of India, said.
Islamabad’s total rice exports could jump to 5 million tons in 2023/24 financial year, up from the last year’s 3.7 million tons, Chela Ram Kewlani, chairman of Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) said last month.
The depreciation of the Pakistani rupee has made Pakistan’s exports more competitive, according to Akshay Gupta, head of bulk exports at KRBL Ltd.
Meanwhile, lower export demand amid an estimated 10 percent rise in India’s basmati rice production has started pulling down basmati prices in that country, said Gupta.
Iran, the biggest buyer of Indian basmati rice, slashed purchases by 36 percent in 2023, but higher shipments to Iraq, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia offset the shortfall, according to data compiled by India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
Indian exports had lost momentum in September and October as the government imposed minimum export price (MEP) on basmati rice, but they quickly recovered, said a New-Delhi-based exporter.
In August, India imposed the MEP on basmati rice shipments at $1,200 per ton, exceeding prevailing market rates, before lowering it to $950 in October.
However, exports began faltering again in January, and may decline further in the near term as buyers delay purchases due to increased freight costs caused by disruptions in shipping via the Red Sea, exporter Vijay Setia said.
“Buyers are holding ample inventory; there’s no need for them to rush,” he said.


Pakistan’s National Assembly convenes for maiden sitting, PM’s election on March 3

Pakistan’s National Assembly convenes for maiden sitting, PM’s election on March 3
Updated 12 min 34 sec ago
Follow

Pakistan’s National Assembly convenes for maiden sitting, PM’s election on March 3

Pakistan’s National Assembly convenes for maiden sitting, PM’s election on March 3
  • Lawmakers backed by ex-PM Khan chant slogans through the session, many carried his portraits and wore Khan face masks
  • Nomination papers for the prime minister’s election can be submitted on Saturday, says National Assembly secretariat

ISLAMABAD: Members of Pakistan’s lower house of the parliament will elect a new prime minister on Sunday, the National Assembly secretariat confirmed on Thursday, hours after the assembly’s maiden session was held amid protests on the floor of the house by supporters of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan.

The assembly’s secretariat said legislators can submit nomination papers for the prime minister’s election at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 2. It added that scrutiny of the nomination papers would begin from 3:00 p.m. on Saturday.

“The prime minister will be elected on Sunday, March 3, 2024,” the National Assembly secretariat said.

Pakistan’s Feb. 8 national elections were followed by widespread allegations of rigging and vote fraud, leading to nationwide protests by a number of political parties but most prominently by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) that won the most seats in the National Assembly despite a state-backed crackdown against the party and the arrests of its leaders in the run-up to the vote.

The split mandate in parliament led to an agreement between Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of three-time premier Nawaz Sharif on Feb. 20 to form a coalition government, ending days of uncertainty and negotiations.

PML-N’s 79 and the PPP’s 54 seats together make a simple majority in parliament to form a government, and they have also roped in smaller parties in the coalition. Candidates backed by Khan’s PTI won 93 seats, but do not have the numbers to form a government.

Thursday’s session started with ruckus as soon as the national anthem ended and Khan-backed lawmakers, who have joined the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), surrounded the speaker’s podium.

“Who will save Pakistan? Imran Khan, Imran Khan!” PTI lawmakers chanted after the oath taking ceremony and as newly elected MNAs signed the NA register roll.

PTI lawmakers were carrying placards inscribed with the slogan, “Release Imran Khan,” and some were carrying his portraits and wearing Imran Khan face masks.

RESERVED SEATS

Not all members of the 336-member house took the oath on Thursday, with the apportioning of 70 reserved seats for women and minorities still pending adjudication by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The commission will decide on allocating reserved seats to the SIC, which did not win any seats in the polls but was later joined by Khan’s successful supporters, who had contested as independents. The ECP completed hearings on the matter on Wednesday but has yet to deliver a ruling.

Other major parties including the PPP and PMLN have opposed the allocation of the reserved seats to the PTI-SIC alliance, saying the SIC was not a parliamentary party and could not claim seats.

Speaking on the floor of the house, PTI lawmaker Barrister Gohar Khan said parliament was “incomplete” as his party was yet to be allocated its share of reserved seats.

“You become the elected member when you enjoy trust of the public, and trust of the people is earned,” he said, alleging that rigging in the elections had compromised the PTI’s mandate and it had won 180 seats in parliament.

Barrister Khan said the PTI-SCI alliance deserved 20 women and three minority seats out of 70 reserved seats in the assembly.

The National Assembly will elect the speaker and deputy speaker on Friday.

“CHALLENGES AHEAD”

The coalition alliance has announced Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, as its candidate for the PM’s slot. Shehbaz is himself a former premier and replaced Khan when he was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament in 2022. Since then, Khan has been convicted of several offenses in what his supporters call politically motivated cases to keep him out of office.

The coalition alliance is backing Asif Ali Zardari of the PPP as their joint candidate for president when the new parliament and all the four provincial legislatures elect the successor of the outgoing President Arif Ali, a close Khan ally, in the coming weeks.

Shehbaz is expected to take over the country at the time when the new government would need to take tough decisions to steer the country out of financial crisis, including negotiating a new bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund. The current IMF program expires in March.

A new program will mean committing to steps needed to stay on a narrow path to recovery, but which will limit policy options to provide relief to a deeply frustrated population and cater to industries that are looking for government support to spur growth.

Other big moves include privatization of loss-making state-owned enterprises such as the flagship carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

Pakistan is also facing a troubling rise in militancy, which any new government will have to tackle. Lowering political temperatures will also be a key challenge as Khan maintains mass popular support in Pakistan, and a continued crackdown on his party and his remaining in jail would likely stoke tensions at a time when stability is needed to attract foreign investment to shore up the economy.


Speaker, deputy speaker elected for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan provincial assemblies in Pakistan

Speaker, deputy speaker elected for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan provincial assemblies in Pakistan
Updated 53 min 17 sec ago
Follow

Speaker, deputy speaker elected for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan provincial assemblies in Pakistan

Speaker, deputy speaker elected for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan provincial assemblies in Pakistan
  • Babar Saleem Swati won 89 out of 106 votes against his rival who got 17 votes
  • Suraiya Bibi becomes first women ever to be elected as deputy speak of KP assembly 

QUETTA: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly on Thursday elected lawmakers backed by former prime minister Imran Khan as the new speaker and deputy speaker of the provincial legislature, a day after it held its first session following general elections earlier this month. 

Independent candidates backed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party swept provincial polls in Feb. 8 elections, bagging over 90 of 111 general seats on which voting was held. Since independent candidates cannot form a government, PTI loyalists have joined the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) to make their government in the province for a third consecutive term.

Khan’s PTI previously ruled the province from 2013 to 2023. 

Babar Saleem Swati, who became the custodian of the house, contested as the SIC candidate for the post.

“PTI’s Babar Saleem Swati has been elected speaker [KP] assembly by getting 89 votes,” Khan’s party said on X. 

Another Khan-backed candidate, Suraiya Bibi, was elected deputy speaker, the first woman ever elected to the post in KP. 

Separately, in Balochistan province, PML-N’s Abdul Khaliq Achakzai was elected as speaker and Ghazala Gola Begum from the PPP as deputy speaker of the legislature in the southwestern province. 

Candidates backed by Khan won the most National Assembly seats, 93, in the elections but the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have agreed to an alliance to form a coalition government. The Sunni Ittehad Council party backed by Khan alleges that the election was rigged against them and has called for an audit of the polls. 

No single party won a majority.


Media bodies urge Pakistan top court to cancel committee probing anti-judges online campaign

Media bodies urge Pakistan top court to cancel committee probing anti-judges online campaign
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

Media bodies urge Pakistan top court to cancel committee probing anti-judges online campaign

Media bodies urge Pakistan top court to cancel committee probing anti-judges online campaign
  • Joint investigation team set up last month to “ascertain facts behind malicious social media campaign” against judges
  • Was formed after social media campaign unleashed following a Supreme Court judgment against Imran Khan’s party

ISLAMABAD: Media bodies including the Press Association of the Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court Journalists Association have filed a joint petition requesting the top court to cancel a joint investigation team (JIT) probing a so-called social media campaign against judges in which many journalists have been served notices. 

The interior ministry set up a five-member joint investigation team last month to “ascertain facts behind a malicious social media campaign” against Supreme Court judges.

The panel was formed under Section 30 (power to investigate) of the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) 2016 and convened by the additional director general of the Federal Investiga­tion Agency’s (FIA) cybercrime wing. It was formed against the backdrop of a “smear campaign” that erupted on social media soon after a Jan. 13 Supreme Court judgment that upheld an Election Commission of Pakistan ruling to revoke the iconic electoral symbol, the cricket bat, of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan. The decision meant all candidates from the party had to run in Feb. 8 elections as independent candidates with different election symbols.

The petition filed by the journalists’ bodies said roving inquiries by the FIA, the appointment of the JIT and multitudinous summons with regards to vague allegations regarding a so-called “explicit and malicious campaign against Hon. Judges of Supreme Court of Pakistan” or “derogatory remarks against the Superior Judiciary of Pakistan” had a “chilling effect” and unreasonably restricted the right of free speech and information guaranteed under Article 19 and 19-A of the Constitution.

“It is, accordingly, an issue of public importance involving the enforcement of fundamental rights,” the petitioner submitted, arguing that the right to punish (or show forbearance in respect of) speech that scandalized the court or brought the court or a judge into hatred, ridicule or contempt vested exclusively with the apex court under Article 204 of the Constitution and the executive could not be allowed to usurp that discretion, as it infringed the doctrine of separation of powers. It said the power to punish the charge of scandalizing a judge or the judiciary, which the court itself so sparingly exercised, could not be handed over to the FIA to be used as and when it deemed fit.

A total of 65 notices had been issued to various persons, including more than 30 journalists, in at least 115 inquiries by the JIT in Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Multan, Faisalabad, Lahore, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Gilgit, Islamabad, Peshawar, Abbottabad, Dera Ismail Khan, Quetta and Gwadar. 

Pakistani anchorman Imran Riaz Khan was arrested from his house in Lahore last week over accusations he had participated in an anti-judiciary social media campaign. Another reporter Asad Ali Toor was also arrested on charges of orchestrating a campaign against the state and its officials, with the “objective to coerce, intimidate, and incite violence” against them through his social media platforms. In recent months, several of Toor’s posts and videos have been critical of government agencies, Pakistan’s military establishment and the Supreme Court.