MFN: Getting Indo-Pak workers united
The government would probably have its stand on the MFN status to India bolstered if there had been substantial support from the leadership of the workers' federations and councils. It has been established that MFN status to India and the removal of Non-Tariff Trade Barriers by New Delhi would result in enhancement of exports to India and at the same time, in the future, would attract Indian investment in many sectors.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2011
It has also been established that while there would be some industries that may face a negative impact on their production, their viability, and their sales, the prognosis is evidently clear that there would be an upsurge in exports from Pakistan and a positive bilateral trade regime with India would reactivate closed industries as well as create more employment opportunities in many crucial industrial sectors.
The lack of support from the workers' leadership or maybe their indifference has been a cause of concern for the private sector captains. The only ray of hope emanated from Pakistan Institute for Labour Research and Education (PILER) and that too in the form of a press conference in November 2011. Sad to state, this initiative was not capitalised by other stakeholders in the workers' movement and thus it has to be ascertained what is really the thinking of mainstream labour leadership.
The idealistic mode should have been the convening of a conference or a seminar, where the labour leadership representing all schools of thought from India as well as Pakistan, should have put their heads together and come out with a strategic response that would have created the desired ambience as well as enabled the governments to undertake the steps that are imperative in achieving a doable bilateral trade and investment regime.
It is noteworthy to appreciate that the Pakistani and Indian workers' organisations have for many decades maintained close co-operation, healthy working relationship, affinity and harmony across the border. It is, therefore, difficult to fathom why there has not been a vociferous demand for action on MFN and for bringing trade and industry of both the countries on the same page through trust and optimism.
ACCESS TO MARKETS AND TECHNOLOGY India has the world's largest middle-class market and is right next door. No country can proudly claim that it has the capability and the capacity to produce everything. That is why countries take support of bilateral trade so that the citizens as well as the goods producers are able to easily obtain their requirements. It is thus ironical that Pakistan is deprived of such a monumental marketplace just because the hearts and souls do not coincide with the created contentious issues and machinations. This is where the workers' leadership can play a defining role and to help build up the confidence factor and the desired environment so that Pakistan can enhance the exportable items from 426 in 2010 to at least 600 and in the process increase exports from US $275 million to about US $600 million. This extra US $325 million would generate thousands of jobs and pave the way for a substantial demand for Pakistani products in the years to come.
The unanimity of views and the solidarity among the workforce in both the countries could generate the right consensus and enable this affinity to become the catalyst in significantly reducing and eventually removing NTBs that are negatively impacting the smooth and easy inflow of Pakistani products into India. What is also of paramount importance is the fact that these NTBs are creations of a chauvinistic mindset, fine-tuned by six decades of hostile attitudes and belligerent nationalistic moods. A strong and effective representation by the workers would provide the impetus needed by policymakers to end this tacit action of declaring all Pakistani goods as intrusion of enemy into the motherland.
Another overriding advantage for Pakistan is the possibility of the availability of new and practical technology from India, especially for the small and medium enterprises of Pakistan. Apart from savings in transportation costs, the very fact that the installers of the machinery from India would be able to converse in Hindi or Urdu with the labour in Pakistan would better enable them to transfer technical knowledge as well as explain the operational systems and procedures.
It is imperative that the workers' organisations in Pakistan enter into a meaningful dialogue with their counterparts in India and impress upon them the rationale behind the proposal to attract Pakistani products into India in a hassle-free and bias-free environment. They have to ensure that the Indian counterparts positively understand the fact that if Pakistani products are assured a favourable status then the overall gain would also accrue to the large number of unemployed and frustrated workforce, especially the young workers who need to start their livelihood career with quality employment and emoluments. The ensuing result would definitely be a major reduction in crime, extremism, terrorism, and eventually in jingoistic outbursts churning out from both sides of the border.
THE ROADMAP In view of the trust-deficit and political enmity that have existed between the two countries and prejudiced the public opinion on matters impacting on the lives of common people, it is imperative that efforts be made to facilitate the workers for an informed understanding of the role of bilateral trade between Pakistan and India. An amiable relationship would improve the security climate for investment and economic development in both countries. Increased trade can be the starting point for this objective. PILER and Workers Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan (WEBCOP) propose to initiate informed public debates on the issue with active engagement of concerned stakeholders, industry, trade and commerce, labour and trade unions, academia, state, civil society, media and citizens at large. The objective is to bring together the stakeholders who hold different and conflicting opinions on bilateral trade across the border, revisit the international and regional agreements that Pakistan has committed to over the years, discuss technical, economic, political and social aspects, and build a consensus on the need to move towards a fair, open and trustful bilateral relationship between the two countries.
The mutually-profitable thinking amongst the working class is that the time is opportune for the workers' representatives to vigorously lobby for free movement of labour across the border for training, apprenticeship and learning new methods and processes, lobbying to streamline workers' emoluments, benefits, facilities, among Saarc countries, especially Pakistan and India, so that there is a pragmatic level-playing field, uniting to impress upon both governments to have a common strategy if decisions of third countries or blocs affect both India and Pakistan, and joining together to protect the Intellectual Property Rights.
It is proposed that the first such seminar should be a joint effort of Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, WEBCOP, and PILER and should be held in KCCI in the month of January 2012. The format would be in a debate mode and the resource persons would initiate the debate and discussion. It is envisaged that a few resource persons from India should also be invited so that the viewpoint and opinion of the Indian side is also presented and contemplated during the programme. The proceedings of the seminar would be recorded and compiled by the PILER team and these would be disseminated to concerned stakeholders in Pakistan as well as in India.
LOOKING AT THE SKY Karamat Ali, Chief of PILER, recently stated that "labour representatives should adopt and support the idea to enhance trade relationship with India. The groups that are against trade between India and Pakistan do not have any logical basis of denigration. They are religious groups, Jihadis, or even having extremist ideology and destructive aggression as their business. However, the trade groups, industrialists and businessmen are supporting this idea of MFN and therefore the working class should also raise their voice with them for their benefit and mutual interest."
Zafar Mahmood, the Federal Commerce Secretary, has been assuring all stakeholders that pragmatic factors would be considered in placing any item in the Negative List so that the domestic industry has reasonable protection and able to sustain viability. He stated that there should be no discrimination against India vis-à-vis other countries that have been accorded MFN status by Pakistan. He said that India's export data to other Saarc countries would be seriously studied too. He added that the landed cost for Indian goods would be minutely scrutinised and if the Indian cost is lower, then Pakistan would resort to increasing the tariff as well as imposing trade defensive measures.
The workers of India as well as Pakistan must understand that India will always have an edge and its exports and future investment would be greater than Pakistani exports or investment. At this moment, for every dollar earned by Pakistan from exports to India, the figure is eight dollars from Indian exports to Pakistan.
Notwithstanding all concerns, bottlenecks, distrust, and jingoism, it is incumbent upon the workers to take the initiative and resolve to work in solidarity with one another to attain the following:
---- Promotion of peace, brotherhood, and friendship through trade and investment.
---- Lobbying to respective governments to resolve contentious issues affecting both the countries.
---- Lobbying to liberalise visas for workers, allowing free movement through multi-city travel facilitation, and eliminating police reporting.
---- Lobbying for providing scholarships to workers' children to study in prestigious educational and technical institutions in each other's country.
---- Promoting culture, arts, and culinary.
---- Strengthening workers' organisations and enabling them to work for more trade liberalisation, investment, workers rights, decent work, and freedom of association.
---- Working together to achieve Millennium Development Goals.
---- Hina Ka Rang Hoon Mein Hathon Pe To Aaoonga
---- Utar Gaya To Mehak Apni Chhor Jaon Ga
(Majyd Aziz is former President of Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Zeenat Hisham is Manager Research and Farhat Fatima is Programme Associate at Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research)