ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Afghanistan are said to have failed to evolve a consensus on a number of conditions of transit trade agreement, due to which minutes of three-day technical meetings could not be signed, well-informed diplomatic sources told Business Recorder.
The main disagreement, between Pakistan and Afghanistan, sources said, was on the wording of one clause of the proposed APTTA: Afghanistan was insisting that it should be minuted in writing that the new APTTA will be signed under the law and framework of World Trade Organization (WTO) which construes free movement of goods including from India through land route. This condition is not acceptable to Pakistan.
In the past, talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan on trade could not succeed as the former always wanted free movement of Indian goods through Pakistani territory.
"Discussions could not conclude due to unflinching stance of Afghanistan on a few issues including signing of agreement under the WTO framework," the sources added.
The afghan delegation, sources said, left the meetings a couple of times in protest at the viewpoint of Pakistan on a number of contentious issues.
"Minutes of decisions, agreed in the meetings, have not been signed by Afghanistan despite repeated requests from the Pakistani side," the sources maintained.
Although five following issues were on the agenda (i) APTTA; (ii) PTA; (iii) free movement of trucks; (iv) agreement on unification of customs procedures and processes and; (v) improvement in the banking system but discussions remained limited to APTTA.
An official announcement from the Commerce Ministry says the 8th meeting of APTTCA was held in Islamabad from 28 to 30 December, 2020. The Afghanistan delegation was led by Nisar Ahmad Faizi Ghoryani, Minister of Industry and Commerce of Afghanistan.
During the visit, he had meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan, Advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Commerce and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood, Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi, Speaker of National Assembly Asad Qaiser and representatives from the private sector of Pakistan. The 8th APTTCA meeting was jointly inaugurated by Abdul Razak Dawood and Nisar Ahmad Faizi Ghoryani, Minister of Industry and Commerce of Afghanistan. Muhammad Sualeh Ahmed Faruqui, Secretary, Ministry of Commerce, and Hashmatullah Ghafoori, Deputy Minister of Irrigation and Natural Resources, Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock, of Afghanistan, co-chaired the meeting.
"The two sides held detailed discussions for the revision of APTTA in a constructive and positive spirit where a lot of progress was made on the agenda. Texts of the proposed drafts were earlier exchanged and discussed in the meeting between the two sides.
The two sides agreed to have further discussions and exchange views on the subject matter," says the official statement.
This would be followed by next meeting on a mutually agreed date and place to make further progress. In addition to the talks on APTTA, constructive discussions were also held on PTA and proposed sustenance markets. An MoU on Railway cooperation was also discussed.
According to sources, discussions on the following themes were held: (i) reducing cost of APTTA; (ii) trade and investment opportunities in manufacturing sector and ; (iii) trade and investment opportunities in agriculture, food, livestock, and minerals.
The committee was informed a meeting had also been held in the Commerce Ministry on October 27, 2020 on issues being faced by both sides. Issues taken up by Pakistan side were as follows; (i) Pakistani trucks must be allowed to move up-to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan border, similarly Afghan Trucks and vehicles should be allowed to move up-to Wagah Border and Karachi Sea Port; (ii) Afghanistan side provides only 5 days for transit shipment of CARs to cross its territory, after which 5000 AFG fine is charged per container per day.
The practice should be done away with immediately as there are problems enroute that cause delays beyond 5 days; (iii) time-limit for Pakistani trucks and cargo crossing Afghanistan and unloading on the border of Tajikistan should be increased from 5 days to 15 days; (iv) regular periodical meetings of APTTCA should be convened; (v) border facilitations on the Afghan side of Torkham border must be undertaken immediately; (vi) Afghanistan needs to develop infrastructure on their side at crossing points in order to facilitate trade and transit; (vii) border facilitations on the Afghan side of Torkham border must be undertaken immediately.
The Afghanistan side raised the following issues: (i) improvement in railways services including additions of good transports companies, under customs supervision apart from bonded carriers be considered; (ii) apart from bonded carriers and the railways, the private trucks should be allowed under customs supervision to minimize the freight of ATT; (iii) Afghanistan will host 7th meeting of APTTCA to revise APTTA, in November 2020; (iv) cross stuffing must be allowed from shipping lines' containers to privately-owned containers of transit trade practitioners; (v) Currently, there are two Afghan items on Pakistan's negative items list auto parts and cigarettes – which should be removed from the negative list; (vii) immediate actions should be taken to allow partial shipments; (viii) customs valuations rates should be pre-notified on the basis of WTO rules; (ix) demurrage and containers detentions charges should be waived off on containers that were being stranded due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic; (x) shipping lines and port terminals must be bound to rationalise their charges; (xi) free days for detention should be increased to 40 days and demurrage to 15 days; (xii) 100% scanning may be reduced at exit points. Pakistan Customs said that scanning at Karachi is 20% for ATT; (xiii) the number of scanners on borders should be increased; (ix) a dedicated lane should be established at Karachi port to ease out transit trade between Pakistan-Afghanistan; (x) facilitation of the movement of goods via railway lines and investment in the development of Railway line for operations of transit cargoes; (xi) in order to accelerate the process of transit cargo either one of procedure of physical examination or scanning should be done in case a cargo is physically examined so that should be exempted from scanning process; (xii) Chaman border must be operationalized 24/7; (xiii) mechanism should be in place for ensuring prevention of illegal extortions including private parking yard ; (xiii) preference should be given to perishable goods: they must be cleared immediately upon arrival; (xiv) WeBOC should be fully integrated with ASYCUDA Afghanistan and full access should be given to Afghan traders; (xv) “monopoly” of TPL trackers should be ended; (xvi) insurance costs may be rationalized; (xvii) bonded carriers cartel must be finished and costs be rationalized and ;(xvii) Afghan trucks be allowed to carry goods upto Wahga.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021