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ISLAMABAD: The Federal Cabinet has appointed a person as Member National Tariff Commission (NTC), an arm of Commerce Ministry, whose appointment was previously declared illegal by Islamabad High Court (IHC), well-informed sources told Business Recorder.

According to Commerce Ministry, NTC was initially established through the NTC Act 1990 under the Ministry of Commerce (MoC). Since 1995, the primary role of NTC had been to administer trade defense laws, i.e., anti-dumping duties, countervailing duties, as well as safeguard duties to protect Pakistan’s trade interests. The global growth of protectionism and its impact on Pakistan’s trade compelled the MoC to make necessary addition of Member NTC in 1990 under the Ministry of Commerce (MoC). Since 1995, the primary role of NTC had been to administer trade defense laws, i.e. anti-dumping duties, countervailing duties, as well as safeguard duties to protect Pakistan’s trade interests.

The global growth of protectionism and its impact on Pakistan’s trade compelled the MoC to make necessary amendments in the NTC laws so as to make them more effective for ensuring fair trading conditions for Pakistan. Accordingly, the modified Act was placed before the Parliament, which was approved in September, 2015.

The Ministry says that the current issue pertains to the “disputed” appointment of Muhammad Saleem as Member NTC by Federal Cabinet. An advertisement was published on December 30, 2017 for appointment of members of the Commission; after recording input from Law & Justice Division and obtaining approval of Prime Minister, on April 05, 2019 on a summary of May 18, 2018, a summary of November 25, 2019 was placed before the Cabinet for appointment of member NTC. Subsequently, the Federal Cabinet in its decision of November 26, 2019 approved the appointment of Muhammad Saleem as Member NTC.

However, one of the candidates in the panel, being “aggrieved”, filed a writ petition - Naeem Anwar v/s GoP) - against nomination of Muhammad Saleem as Member, NTC in the Islamabad High Court, which in its order of June 24, 2021, decided the case in favour of the petitioner.

Appointment of member NTC declared unlawful

The operating part of the Judgment is as follows: “since the appointment of Muhammad Saleem as Member, NTC is found to be the product of injudicious selection, the instant petition is allowed; the process adopted for his appointment as Member, NTC is declared to be in violation of the procedure provided in Rule 7(8) of the 2018 Rules, and therefore declared as unlawful; the appointment of Muhammad Saleem as Member, NTC is set aside. The Ministry of Commerce and Textile shall submit a summary (which shall not include the recommendations of the Advisor to the Prime Minister on Commerce and Textile or any reference to interviews conducted by him) regarding the selection of one Member, NTC on the basis of unanimous recommendations of the Selection Committee to the Cabinet for a decision in the matter in accordance with the law. This Judgment shall remain in abeyance for a period of one month from the date of its issuance and during this period the Cabinet/Federal Government is expected to take a decision in the matter on a summary to be submitted by the Ministry of Commerce and Textile. There shall be no order as to costs.”

Commerce Ministry further noted that Para 7 of the Summary for Cabinet of November 25, 2019 contained the recommendation of Advisor to Prime Minister on Commerce for appointment of Muhammad Saleem as Member, NTC. Islamabad High Court, in its Order, had nullified the appointment of Muhammad Saleem as Member NTC, and directed to resubmit a summary for the Cabinet without recommendations of Advisor to PM on Commerce.

Hence, in compliance with IHC’s Order, in light of the comments of Law & Justice Division, and in supersession of the Ministry of Commerce’s summary of November 25, 2019, the following panel was placed before the Federal Cabinet to consider the appointment of the 5th Member of the NTC: (i) Naeem Anwar; (ii) Muhammad Saleem; and (iii)) Syed Kausar Ali Zaidi.

During discussion in Cabinet neither Abdul Razak Dawood, Adviser for Commerce and Investment, nor any other Adviser or Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) participated in the consideration of the Summary. Muhammad Sualeh Ahmad Faruqui, Secretary, Commerce Division invited the Cabinet’s attention to the judgment of the IHC in W.P.No.4334 of 2019 of June 24, 2021. The Cabinet Members resolved to consider the Summary strictly in terms of the judgment.

After a thorough discussion the Cabinet members considered three names for the post of Member, NTC and decided to appoint Muhammad Saleem and the following reasons were given for the selection: (1) four out of the five prime functions of NTC relate to tariffs, tariff rationalization and removal of tariff anomalies etc. Only one prime function relates to trade remedy action. Tariff Policy Board has directed NTC to take up the following additional activities, (i) Elimination of SROs and Schedules, (ii) Duty Drawback Scheme, (iii) Comparison of international tariff structure, (iv) Product classification issues, and (v) Advance Ruling Provisions in Customs Act 1969. The listed activities are highly technical in nature, which require proper competence and expertise in these matters. None of these have ever been handled in NTC. Saleem having been an officer of the Customs Department, has the relevant expertise in all these matters and competence in one area of trade remedy laws but no exposure in the above areas; (2) Muhammad Saleem was, therefore, found to be a better fit and suitable for the job in question; and (3) furthermore, another existing member in the NTC has the same experience as Naeem Anwar. Two other existing members of the NTC have similar experience as the third candidate i.e. Zaidi. Therefore, selection of Saleem will give NTC more diversity.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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