PAK, MALAYSIA HEADING TOWARDS FREE TRADE ACCORD
From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI,
Feb 28 - Mar 06, 2005
Pakistan and Malaysia have decided to take a series of initiatives aimed at promoting economic cooperation between the two countries. These initiatives were actually the outcome of the recent visit of Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to Pakistan, which will go a long way to strengthen the existing friendly relations between the two nations.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and his Malaysian counterpart declared at the Pak-Malaysia Forum in Islamabad that the two sides have signed joint ventures and memorandums of understanding to move towards that goal. Both also agreed to start talks on a preferential trade agreement to pave the way for a free trade agreement.
On the occasion, Badawi said that at the end of quota regime, the two countries should take full benefit of trade liberalization. The full potential of economic cooperation between the two countries was yet to be fully exploited, he added.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said Pakistan offered immense investment opportunities, and encouraged Malaysian businessmen to take full benefit of the country's growing economy, liberal economic policies and what he described as its investment-friendly environment.
The two countries already shared a cordial trade relationship in the past as Pakistan imports palm oil from Malaysia. and in future Malaysia could increase the import of items like textiles, seafood, sports and surgical goods, rice and manpower from Pakistan.
The Pakistani Prime Minister also listed some key areas where the Malaysian corporate sector could make investments in Pakistan with good prospects of expansion and growth.
Badawi also urged Pakistan to join hands for the promotion of trade and economic relations within the 57 member of Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), which represents almost 1.8 billion people. Although OIC countries meet almost 75 percent of global energy needs and supply, the world with 40 percent of its raw material, trade among them is not substantial. Badawi's suggestion of a free trade agreement among the OIC member countries deserves close attention. In the emerging global atmosphere of free trade, such an agreement can help promote greater economic cooperation among the member countries. He also declared that Pakistan could consider Malaysia as a gateway to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). This could help the country to boost its exports to that region.
The interest shown by the Malaysian Prime Minister and the leaders of the business community accompanying him in the increase of economic and trade relations with Pakistan is encouraging. The two sides are not only keen to foster closer relations at the official but also through the business communities in their respective countries. This creates hope and confidence that trade and investment relations between the two countries will grow stronger. They could even set the pace for other OIC member countries to follow the example of this kind of cooperation.
During his meeting with President Pervez Musharraf, the two leaders discussed ways to strengthen bilateral relations. They reviewed regional and international issues of mutual interest and exchanged views on the challenges being faced by the Muslim Ummah.
They underlined that immense potential existed for economic and trade partnerships, which should be fully tapped to redress trade imbalance and to enhance Malaysian investment in Pakistan. They said that consultations on Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) should lead to Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between both the countries. Both Musharraf and Badawi emphasized upon the need to establish joint investment ventures and to explore new areas for collaboration in industry, electronics, IT, telecommunications and agriculture sectors.
Badawi, who is currently Chairman of the OIC, has echoed feelings of the Ummah on the issue. Though OIC, as a representative body of the Muslim world, is not that effective and has so far not been able to play any meaningful role on any crisis be it Afghanistan or Iraq, what the Malaysian Prime Minister has said is the voice of each and every Muslim.
"There is widespread resentment and concern in the length and breadth of the Muslim world over unabated arms twisting in Iran and Syria by the only superpower of the world. After trampling sovereignty of two independent Muslim states, Washington is now eyeing on Iran and Syria as the next target of its aggression. Iran has shown a lot of flexibility in its attitude and is engaged with constructive dialogue with the European Union. However, there are all indications that Americans are not interested in peaceful resolution of the problem and are bent upon imposing their will on Tehran by use of force. Pressure is also mounting on Syria and it is widely believed that the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri is being used as a pretext by the United States to make things difficult for Damascus. It is in this background that Iran and Syria have arrived at an understanding to face the threats jointly. As the situation is becoming serious, it is time that the OIC should come out of the slumber and play an active role in averting any showdown."
Visit of the Malaysian Prime Minister to Pakistan would surely open new vistas of bilateral cooperation in different spheres of life. Fortunately, Prime Minister of both Pakistan and Malaysia are matter of fact personalities and, therefore, it was a foregone conclusion that the two sides would hold meaningful discussions to take their mutual collaboration to new heights. Badawi conveyed same impression during his address to business forum.
The Malaysian Foreign Minister said the meeting between the two Prime Ministers was the most substantive he ever attended. The Malaysian premier came with a large delegation of businessmen while the level of enthusiasm of the local business community can be judged by the fact that the spacious venue of the forum was unable to accommodate the surging number of delegates.
In the backdrop of Pakistan's concern over huge trade deficit with Malaysia, it is also encouraging that Prime Minister Badawi has all praise for Pakistan's achievements in cotton and textile and advised his businessmen to take advantage of Pakistan's edge in the sector. Hopefully, Malaysian entrepreneurs would listen to his advice to make Pakistan a manufacturing base for marketing of products both in the local and international markets.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told prospective investors, their ventures would be quite profitable as labor cost in Pakistan is five times lower than Malaysia, cheaper raw material is available in abundance and there are emerging markets in the neighboring regions.
It is satisfying that the two sides are also mindful of the fact to overcome delay in implementation of various proposals and have firmed up necessary mechanism to expedite the process.
Prime Minster Shaukat Aziz has already been extended an invitation to lead a business team to Malaysia. All channels should be activated during the intervening period to prepare grounds for realization of the targets focusing on increased interaction in trade and commerce.