'Moving forward' on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Sri Lanka and Pakistan which also goes beyond only trade in goods outlined in the existing bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA), into services and investment promotion, will boost trade between both countries, according to Seema Ilahi Baloch, High Commissioner for Pakistan in Sri Lanka.
Speaking at the recent 18th Annual General Meeting of the Sri Lanka-Pakistan Business council, Ms. Baloch also noted that there was "huge potential for increased trade in light engineering goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, processed goods, textiles, cement and clinker, pharmaceuticals, and industrial chemicals, to name a few."
Further, it was also her opinion that "opportunities for joint ventures are immense and in wide ranging sectors be it in the development of infrastructure or in the tourism sector." At the same time, Ms. Baloch also suggested that it was "up to the business community to provide feedback to the respective governments and identify bottlenecks in the existing trade mechanism." In addition, she also advocated taking "full advantage of the Free Trade Agreement, the Bilateral Investment Treaty, Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement and more recently an agreement on Customs Cooperation, signed between our two countries."
She also recommended an "increased interaction through exchange of business delegations" and "more Business-to-Business interactions – including participation in trade fairs, single country exhibitions, know-how of market trends in Pakistan and Sri Lanka." Elaborating, she also stated that this was "required to fully realise the potential of trade, joint ventures and possible investments. The proximity between our two countries could be a valuable trade facilitator."
Highlighting the fact that Pakistan was the first country to sign a FTA with Sri Lanka, 20 years ago, and that Sri Lanka had duty free access to 206 products in the Pakistani market while Pakistan could avail itself of 102 products in the Sri Lankan market, she commented that Sri Lanka - Pakistan relations had "come a long way" since then." She further revealed that, in 1991, "bilateral trade between Pakistan and Sri Lanka was worth US$ 96.72 million and in 2010; it stood at US$ 349.76 million. The growth is about 2.6 times. But even this growth does not reflect the true commercial potential of the two countries."
She also indicated that, politically, "relations between Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been on an upward trajectory," adding "Pakistan is the second largest trading partner of Sri Lanka within the South Asian region."
In her remarks, Ms. Baloch also pointed out that Pakistan was a large market of over 160 million people and noted that agencies like the World Bank were supportive of her government's plan to court economic growth which would result in Pakistan fully regaining its traction by 2012, implying an upswing in trade between Sri Lanka and Pakistan was due.