Pakistan, US discuss enhancing economic cooperation through bilateral trade, investment

Pakistan, US discuss enhancing economic cooperation through bilateral trade, investment
A US State Department contractor adjusts a Pakistan national flag in Washington, US, on February 19, 2015. (REUTERS/File)
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Updated 25 October 2023
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Pakistan, US discuss enhancing economic cooperation through bilateral trade, investment

Pakistan, US discuss enhancing economic cooperation through bilateral trade, investment
  • Pakistan’s caretaker commerce minister holds virtual meeting with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai
  • Tai described Pakistan as an important trading partner of the US, says Pakistan’s commerce ministry

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Commerce Minister Dr. Gohar Ejaz and US Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai discussed enhancing economic cooperation between the two countries on Tuesday through bilateral trade and investment, Pakistan’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement.

The two representatives held a virtual meeting to discuss progress made by both sides after the 9th Pakistan-United States Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council meeting, which was held in February. The high-level trade talks between the two countries took place this year after a gap of seven years, with the last one taking place in Islamabad in 2016.

TIFA provides a forum for the two countries to discuss bilateral trade and investment, and explore access for Pakistani exports to the US market.

“Both sides agreed to work closely on the various bilateral trade and investment matters with the objective of enhancing the economic cooperation between Pakistan and the USA,” the commerce ministry said.




The photo shows Pakistan's Caretaker Commerce Minister Dr. Gohar Ejaz (right) and US Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai holding a virtual meeting on October 24, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Ministry of Commerce)

Ejaz informed Tai of steps taken by the Pakistani government to improve the country’s business climate, the statement said. The minister also urged Tai to consider allowing duty free access of Pakistani textile and garments exports to the US, adding that Pakistan imports a major chunk of cotton from the US.

He urged Tai to explore a joint venture between the two countries in textile and industrial manufacturing to add value to bilateral trade between Washington and Islamabad, the statement added.

“Ambassador Tai highlighted the importance of Pakistan as an important trading partner of the US. and acknowledged that the continuous engagement between both countries is always encouraging,” the commerce ministry said.

Once close allies, Islamabad’s and Washington’s ties deteriorated over the years mostly due to concerns about Pakistan’s alleged support to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Islamabad vehemently denies sheltering the Taliban in sanctuaries, something Washington has always regarded with suspicion.

Relations between the two countries further deteriorated when former prime minister Imran Khan last year accused Washington of having a hand in his ouster. Khan alleged the US colluded with his political rivals and Pakistan’s army last year in what he said was a “foreign conspiracy” to remove him from power. Khan said Washington had decided to oust him since his administration was forging closer ties with Russia. Washington and Pakistan’s army have both denied Khan’s allegations.


Pakistan army says 11 militants killed in two operations in country’s northwest

Pakistan army says 11 militants killed in two operations in country’s northwest
Updated 22 April 2024
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Pakistan army says 11 militants killed in two operations in country’s northwest

Pakistan army says 11 militants killed in two operations in country’s northwest
  • Security in regions of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan has deteriorated in recent months
  • Five Japanese nationals narrowly escaped a suicide bombimg on their vehicle last week

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan army said on Monday it had killed eleven militants in two different operations in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, amid a surge in terror attacks in the South Asian country. 

Security in areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan has deteriorated in recent months. Attacks, some claimed by the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) Islamist militant group, have risen, mostly targeting police and security officials, while separatist groups have also launched attacks in the country’s southern and southwestern regions.

Five Japanese nationals narrowly escaped a suicide bombing on their vehicle last week, while unknown gunmen killed two customs officers on Sunday, following the killing of five other customs officials in the area in recent days.

“An intelligence-based operation was conducted in Dera Ismail Khan District on reported presence of terrorists. During conduct of the operation, after an intense fire exchange, ten terrorists were successfully neutralized and sent to hell,” the military’s media wing said

“In another encounter in North Waziristan District, own troops effectively engaged the terrorists’ location as a result of which one more terrorist was sent to hell.”

The army said the militants had been involved in “numerous terrorist activities in the area against security forces as well as the innocent civilians.” The two operations took place on April 21-22. 

The current rise in attacks has escalated tensions between Pakistan and the Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban administration. Pakistan, saying militants have been using Afghan territory to launch attacks, has called on the Taliban to take action and carried out an airstrike last month on Afghan territory.

The Taliban have denied allowing the use of Afghan soil for militancy and said Pakistan’s security issues are a domestic issue for Islamabad.


Pakistani finance minister meets top UAE businessmen, banking officials in investment push 

Pakistani finance minister meets top UAE businessmen, banking officials in investment push 
Updated 53 min 36 sec ago
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Pakistani finance minister meets top UAE businessmen, banking officials in investment push 

Pakistani finance minister meets top UAE businessmen, banking officials in investment push 
  • Muhammad Aurangzeb separately meets chairmen of Ayana Holding company and Nad Al Shiba Holding company
  • Discusses financial and economic cooperation with senior officials of Mashreq Bank and First Abu Dhabi Bank in Dubai

KARACHI: Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb met foreign investors in Dubai on Monday to explore ways to enhance investment activity between Pakistan and the UAE in IT, energy, transport and real estate development sectors, the Pakistani finance ministry said in a statement.

The UAE is Pakistan’s third-largest trading partner after China and the United States. Policymakers in Pakistan consider the Gulf state an optimal export destination due to its geographical proximity, which minimizes transportation and freight costs while facilitating commercial transactions.

UAE is also home to some 1.5 million Pakistani expatriates and the second-largest source of remittances to the South Asian country, after Saudi Arabia.

The finance ministry said Aurangzeb met Abdulla Bin Lahej, chairman of the UAE-based Ayana Holding company and Mohammed Hilal Bin Tarraf Al Mansoori, chairman of the Nad Al Shiba Holding company, in Dubai.

“He explored ways to enhance investment activity between the UAE and Pakistan by supporting existing economic partnerships and exploring further diversification to include areas of Information technology, renewable energy, transport and logistics, infrastructure and real estate development,” the statement said.

The ministry said Aurangzeb highlighted Pakistan’s “competitive advantages” that make it an ideal destination for investors seeking high returns and sustainable growth. 

“The Finance Minister also highlighted the role of SIFC [Special Investment Facilitation Council] in assisting investors at every stage of their journey, comprehensive support services including market research, regulatory guidance, investment facilitation, and post-investment support, ensuring a smooth experience,” the statement read.

The SIFC is a civil-military government body formed in June 2023 to attract international investment, mainly from Gulf countries, in Pakistan’s key economic sectors of agriculture, mining, IT and others.

Separately, Aurangzeb met with senior officials of Mashreq Bank and First Abu Dhabi Bank in Dubai to discuss strengthening of financial and economic cooperation.

“The minister emphasized upon the bankers to reconsider their appetite for arranging financing for the country [Pakistan] given significant improvements in economic fundamentals,” the finance ministry said.

The Pakistani finance minister was in Washington from Apr. 14 till 21 to participate in spring meetings organized by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. His tour was an important one for the South Asian country as Pakistan’s ongoing nine-month, $3 billion loan program with the global lender expires this month. Pakistan has already said it is in talks with the international lender for a larger IMF program.

During the visit, Aurangzeb met officials of multilateral institutions and his counterparts from Saudi Arabia and China to highlight the government’s economic reforms and Pakistan’s investment potential.


Pakistan, Iran agree to increase bilateral trade to $10 billion, sign eight MoUs

Pakistan, Iran agree to increase bilateral trade to $10 billion, sign eight MoUs
Updated 44 min 14 sec ago
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Pakistan, Iran agree to increase bilateral trade to $10 billion, sign eight MoUs

Pakistan, Iran agree to increase bilateral trade to $10 billion, sign eight MoUs
  • Agreements are in the fields of trade, science technology, agriculture, health, culture, and judicial matters
  • Two Muslim neighbors are seeking to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes this year

ISLAMABAD: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Monday Islamabad and Tehran had committed to strengthening bilateral relations across political, economic, trade, and cultural domains through the signing of eight accords and memorandums of agreement.

Raisi arrived in Islamabad on Monday on a three-day visit as the two Muslim neighbors seek to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes this year. He is accompanied by his spouse and a high-level delegation of cabinet members and businesspersons.

The Iranian president was presented with a guard of honor by a Pakistan army contingent upon his arrival at the Prime Minister’s House. He subsequently held meetings with Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. 

The MoUs and agreements cover different fields including trade, science technology, agriculture, health, culture, and judicial matters. They include an MoU on the establishment of the Rimdan-Gabd Joint Free/Special Zone; on cooperation between the Ministry of Cooperative Labour and Social Welfare of Iran and the Ministry of Overseas Pakistani and Human Resources Development of Pakistan; on judicial assistance and legal cooperation at the ministry levels; on cooperation for animal hygiene and health; on mutual recognition in the field of quarantine and phytosanitary; and on the promotion of culture and films. 

The signing ceremony also marked the ratification of a security cooperation agreement between the governments of two countries.

“Today in our meeting with [Pakistani] prime minister, and other members of the respective cabinet, we decided to promote the bilateral relations between the two countries at political, economic, trade, culture, including others, at all levels as far as possible,” Raisi said at a joint press stakeout with Pakistani premier Sharif. 

The Iranian President said both countries were committed to combating terrorism, organized crime, narcotics, and various forms of insecurity that threatened not only the neighbors but the wider region.

“There are a number of common positions and stance between our two countries when it comes, for instance, to fighting against terrorism,” he said, adding that Iran and Pakistan shared a lengthy common border, which presented an opportunity to create and bring about welfare for the people residing in border areas and regions.

“The economic and trade volume between Iran and Pakistan is not acceptable at all and we have decided at the first step to increase the trade volume between our two countries to $10 billion,” Raisi added.

Speaking at the press conference, Sharif said both countries collectively needed to work to strengthen bilateral relations, transforming their shared border into a “beacon of development and prosperity.”

“Today presents an opportunity to forge our friendship into a catalyst for progress and prosperity and the decisions made today regarding economic progress and connectivity will yield visible results,” the PM said.

He also commended the “resolute stance” taken by the Iranian nation against Israeli actions in Gaza, where 35,000 people have been killed in Israeli air and ground offensives since Oct. 7. Sharif called on Iran and Pakistan to unite at the OIC and other international forums alongside fellow Islamic nations to push for a complete ceasefire.

“OFTEN AT ODDS”

During his visit from April 22-24, the Iranian head of state is also scheduled to meet the Pakistani president, Senate chairman and National Assembly speaker. He will also visit the cities of Karachi and Lahore to meet the country’s provincial leadership.

Raisi’s visit is the first by any head of state to Pakistan after the South Asian nation’s contentious elections of February 2024 and the formation of a new government headed by Sharif. The visit also comes as tensions are high in the Middle East after Iran launched airstrikes on Israel a week ago and Israel retaliated with its own attack on Friday.

Pakistan and Iran have had a history of rocky relations despite a number of commercial pacts, with Islamabad being historically closer to Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Their highest profile agreement is a stalled gas supply deal signed in 2010 to build a pipeline from Iran’s South Fars gas field to Pakistan’s southern provinces of Balochistan and Sindh.

Pakistan and Iran are also often at odds over instability on their shared porous border, with both countries routinely trading blame for not rooting out militancy.

Tensions surged in January when Pakistan and Iran exchanged airstrikes, both claiming to target alleged militant hideouts in each other’s countries. Both sides have since then undertaken peace overtures and restored bilateral ties.

Former diplomat Naghmana Hashmi said the Iranian President’s visit with a large delegation indicated that both countries had put aside “all sources of irritation,” particularly the recent border skirmishes.

“He is also visiting the commercial centers like Lahore and Karachi, which absolutely is a very clear signal that we want to take the economic relationship that the two countries have, to greater heights, and to increase the flow of trade, to encourage the barter trade and the border markets that we have recently established,” she told Arab News.

Hashmi added that both countries were important forces for peace and security in the region.

“At the time when Iran’s tension with the Israel is at its peak, for the president of Iran to come to Pakistan shows his confidence, both as a leader and as a nation, on us being a good neighbor and they consider Pakistan as their great friend,” she added.

Former Pakistani ambassador to Iran, Riffat Masood, said Raisi’s visit was important in the backdrop of recent hostilities between Israel and Iran.

“And, of course, when the leadership of the two countries meet, they will definitely discuss the way forward in trying to bring an end to or at least reduce the hostilities,” she told Arab News.

She said Raisi’s visit would also further enhance security and economic cooperation between Pakistan and Iran.

“The recent border issues are not expected to have a significant impact,”Masood said, “as both countries swiftly addressed them before any negative consequences could affect bilateral relations.”


‘Stars of tomorrow’: Pakistan forum provides a canvas to small-town, minority artists

‘Stars of tomorrow’: Pakistan forum provides a canvas to small-town, minority artists
Updated 22 April 2024
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‘Stars of tomorrow’: Pakistan forum provides a canvas to small-town, minority artists

‘Stars of tomorrow’: Pakistan forum provides a canvas to small-town, minority artists
  • Imtisal Zafar launched Pakistan Art Forum in 2014 to bring Pakistani art to collectors and enthusiasts globally 
  • PAF holds third annual Stars of Tomorrow show, spotlighting lesser known artists from remote Pakistani towns 

LAHORE: When Imtisal Zafar launched the Pakistan Art Forum, a gallery and what has become the country’s largest digital space for contemporary art, he envisioned a platform that would bring the work of Pakistani artists to collectors and enthusiasts around the world.

Last week’s ‘Stars of Tomorrow’ show hosted by PAF in Lahore did just this and more: it brought to Lahore – the country's cultural and art hub – the work of 28 up-and-coming artists, many of them from remote parts of the country and a number belonging to religious minorities. 

One of these artists was Ghaffar Mesih, who worked as a painter and truck artist for years until he realized he needed formal training to hone his craft.

“I got a 100% scholarship at BNU [Beaconhouse National University in Lahore] where I graduated on the Dean’s Honour List,” Mesih, a Christian from the southern city of Hyderabad, told Arab News at the PAF exhibition on Saturday.

Mesih, whose work invokes Christian stained-glass art found in churches, uses oil on canvas and had already sold a few paintings before the show opened, something Zafar, 38, is extremely proud of. 

“The focus this year has been putting together artists from smaller cities and far-flung areas,” Zafar told Arab News at the third annual Stars of Tomorrow show. “We have artists from Vehari, Chitral, Sargodha, Sialkot… and also religious minorities.

“We want to give them visibility. I prefer artists who are from lesser-known art institutes because they get less visibility and exposure.”

Zafar, who set up PAF in 2014, said a lot of established galleries didn’t give newer artists solo shows, but PAF had been consistently doing that for years.

“We pride ourselves on discovering new artists,” he said. “In the last two years, we have launched several lesser-known artists and given them solo shows, they’ve all gone on to make a name for themselves.”

The show has definitely done that for Sheva Ram Jogi, a Hindu artist from the remote desert region of Tharparker in Sindh, who said Stars of Tomorrow was the biggest art collective he had attended to date.

“Basically, I am from Umerkot,” Jogi told Arab News. “I have had offers for my pieces. They are based on optical illusions which is a bit different to everyone else here. But this has been great to get people from other cities to see my work.”

Tahir Zaman from Chitral, paints the idyllic northern regions of Pakistan with their pastoral beauty, valleys and quietude, and said his work had been well-received by the audience.

“I know nature is not that much in fashion in contemporary art, but this is what I grew up with, what I know best,” he said.   

Half the works displayed during the show were already sold by Saturday evening and more orders were coming in, Zafar said. 

Two of the artists, including Zarnab Baloch, had sold their entire collection.

“These are the biggest platforms my work has ever had,” said Baloch, who has also exhibited her work in past Stars of Tomorrow collections.

Nadia Batool, who teaches at the National College of Arts (NCA) Rawalpindi, said it was difficult for aspiring artists from regions like Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and northern Punjab to get into art shows, but Stars of Tomorrow was a “step in the right direction.”

“When you're not from one of the bigger schools in the country, NCA, BNU, IVS (Indus Valley School), then you have a harder time [getting exposure] unless you're connected to somebody within the market,” she told Arab News. 

“Platforms like Pakistan Art Forum giving people from lesser-known institutes a chance is great for the art world. We could do with many more of these shows.”


Pakistan’s finance minister expects remittances to increase to $29 billion this year

Pakistan’s finance minister expects remittances to increase to $29 billion this year
Updated 22 April 2024
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Pakistan’s finance minister expects remittances to increase to $29 billion this year

Pakistan’s finance minister expects remittances to increase to $29 billion this year
  • Workers’ remittances bring billions of dollars annually to Pakistan and are crucial for country’s fragile economy
  • Finance Minister Aurangzeb says IMF “very receptive” in agreeing to a larger and longer financial assistance program 

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb expects Pakistan’s remittances from overseas citizens will increase to $29 billion this fiscal year, English-language newspaper The National reported on Monday. 

Workers’ remittances bring billions of dollars annually from overseas Pakistanis to the South Asian country and are vital for its fragile economy. These inflows bolster foreign exchange reserves, stabilize balance of payments and support the Pakistani currency.

Aurangzeb has been in Washington since Apr. 14 to participate in spring meetings organized by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. His tour is an important one for the South Asian country as Pakistan’s ongoing nine-month, $3 billion loan program with the global lender expires this month.

When asked about the World Bank estimating that remittances would globally drop this year, Aurangzeb said the “reality is it’s the other way round.”

“So, I think we closed the year at about $28 billion last fiscal year and we expect to close at $29 billion this year,” Aurangzeb said. “So, the remittances have not only been holding up, actually during this fiscal year they will actually go up.”

The Pakistani minister had confirmed last week that Islamabad was seeking a “larger and longer” multi-billion-dollar loan program from the IMF and discussions were underway with the Fund’s officials. 

“We have had very constructive discussions with the managing director and her very senior team,” Aurangzeb said. “And given that we are successfully completing this program, the Fund has been very receptive in terms of agreeing to consider a larger, longer program.”

On China, which has invested heavily in Pakistan through a multi-billion-dollar road and infrastructure project known as the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Aurangzeb said Pakistan “missed a trick” by taking too long to monetize projects. 

Since its initiation in 2013, CPEC has seen tens of billions of dollars funneled into massive transport, energy and infrastructure projects. But the undertaking has also been hit by Pakistan struggling to keep up its financial obligations as well as attacks on Chinese targets by militants.

“We have been slow over the last few years,” he said. “We are going to move forward with Phase Two so that we can get going with the revenue generating part of the of CPEC.”