KARACHI: After a gap of 13 years, Pakistan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Wednesday resumed negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA), a top Pakistani diplomat in Riyadh said.
Islamabad started free-trade negotiations with the GCC — an intergovernmental economic union of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — in 2004, but after two rounds of talks in 2006 and 2008, only a broader outline was reached.
The intention to resume the talks was declared during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Islamabad in 2019, but they were further delayed by the coronavirus outbreak.
“The third round of free trade negotiations was held virtually between Pakistan and GCC officials today after continuous efforts of Trade Mission Riyadh,” Azhar Ali Dahar, trade and investment minister at the Pakistani mission in Riyadh, told Arab News over the phone on Wednesday.
During the talks, the GCC side was led by Saudi Arabia’s deputy finance minister, Dr. Hamad Al-Bazai, while Pakistan was represented by Muhammad Humair Kareem, additional secretary for trade diplomacy at the Ministry of Commerce.
“During the first such dialogue since 2008, both sides reiterated their commitment for speedy and logical conclusion of talks into the Free Trade Agreement,” Dahar said, adding that technical teams from both sides will be formed and announced soon after Eid, when the talks will focus on the sectors of services, banking, insurance, manufacturing, information technology, and construction.
Maria Kazi, joint secretary for the Middle East at the Ministry of Commerce Ministry has been appointed Pakistan’s focal person for the process, while her GCC counterpart is Abdulrazzaq Al-Jraid — head of the council’s FTA negotiations section.
Since Islamabad’s positions will be based on feedback from the country’s trade community, Dahar said the relevant stakeholders should submit their recommendations as soon as possible.
“The progress on FTA with GCC will be made soon after Eid, so Pakistani trade associations must submit their recommendations for the agreement with GCC to joint secretary Middle East at Commerce Ministry in Islamabad as soon as possible,” Dahar said.
Pakistan has FTAs only with three countries: China, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka. If its GCC deal materializes, it would greatly expand the country’s export market in the Middle East, especially for agricultural products.