There have been questions raised on the extent to which foreign policy of Pakistan should reflect its trading relationships with individual countries, regions, and groups of countries which are members of international organizations? This requires determination of which are the major destinations of the country’s exports, and which are the major origins of our imports? What is the regional and country-wise pattern of our trade surpluses and deficits? And which are the major countries to which our exports have shown faster growth?
The analysis has been undertaken with trade data made available by the SBP in its economic data website. For earlier years, the relevant information has been obtained from the SBP publication, Handbook of Statistics on Pakistan Economy.
The top four export markets of Pakistan in 2020-21 are the EU countries combined, the USA, UK, and China. It is significant that the major destinations of Pakistan’s exports are mostly in Europe and North America. Pakistan has been granted GSP plus status by the European Union with some preferential tariff treatment. Pakistan also has a free trade agreement with China which has been implemented in steps from 2006 onwards.
The combined exports to the 27 EU countries aggregated to $6.4 billion in 2020-21. This represents a share of 25 percent of Pakistan’s total exports. The second largest value of exports is to the USA of $5.0 billion, equivalent to 20 percent of total exports of Pakistan.
The other two relatively large destinations of the country’s exports are the UK and China. Combined, the share of Pakistan’s four major export markets is over 62 percent of total global exports. This highlights the extreme regional concentration of the country’s exports. The share of SAARC countries is only 8 percent, despite presence of the SAFTA free trade agreement. It was somewhat higher when there was trade directly with India.
Turning to the regional distribution of the country’s imports, the sources are more diversified. China is by far the dominant exporter to Pakistan. Imports from China aggregated to $13.2 billion in 2020-21, equivalent to over 25 percent of total imports. The other major exporting countries to Pakistan include the OPEC countries with a share of 24 percent, followed by the EU countries and the USA. Overall, the combined share of these countries is close to 55 percent in total imports of Pakistan.
What has been the growth rate of exports to the major destinations? Between 2012-13 and 2018-19, the fastest cumulative increase over the six years is to the UK of 33 percent, followed by a 32 percent increase to Germany and of 11 percent to the USA. The big declines are to China of 27 percent, to Afghanistan of 37 percent and to the UAE of as much as 57 percent.
By far the largest increase in imports has been from China, which has taken full advantage of the free trade agreement with Pakistan. Between 2012-13 and 2018-19, the cumulative increase has been as much as 133 percent. Now China alone accounts for 30 percent of total imports of Pakistan.
The overall trade deficit of Pakistan was very large in 2020-21 at $26.5 billion, with imports over twice the level of exports. Therefore, the likelihood is high that Pakistan will carry a significant deficit with most of its major trading partners. The country-wise balance of trade is given in the table below.
Pakistan's Trade Balance with Major Trading Partners, 2020-21
Exports to Imports from Balance of Trade
China 2.0 13.2 -11.2
USA 5.0 2.4 3.6
EU Countries 6.5 3.7 2.8
Major OPEC Countries 1.9 9.4 -7.5
Others 10.2 28.7 -18.5
Total 25.6 52.1 -26.5
Pakistan has a very large trade deficit with China, equivalent to 42 percent of its global deficit. The deficit has been growing rapidly. Pakistan’s exports to China have been declining while imports have shown fast growth. Today, China’s exports to Pakistan are six times its imports from Pakistan. The time has come for a review of the implementation of the 2006 Trade Agreement between Pakistan and China. Pakistan needs to seek more quid pro quo from China.
The trade surplus with two major trading partners – the USA and the EU countries – is of $3.6 billion and $2.8 billion, respectively. These are the bigger markets, especially for textile products. The trading relationship with these countries needs to be preserved and built upon.
Pakistan has preferential access to the EU market through the GSP plus programme since 2014. This allows a large share of Pakistan’s exports to enter EU countries free of duty. Two criteria must be met for continuation of this facility. First, GSP-covered imports should be less than 2 percent of EU’s imports from all GSP beneficiaries. The share currently of Pakistan is 1.6 percent. Second, the seven largest GSP covered products must account for at least 75 percent of Pakistan’s total GSP covered exports to the EU. The share currently of these products is 94 percent.
Further, Pakistan has had to ratify 27 core international conventions and subscribe to binding commitments to implement them effectively. These are mainly UN and ILO conventions and other conventions on environment. The GSP status of Pakistan is periodically reviewed by the EU. Weak areas of implementation by Pakistan relate to gender inequality, workers’ rights, and the presence of child workers.
There has been some focus recently on Pakistan’s trading relationship with Russia. The current volume of trade between the two countries is small with $163 million of exports and $593 million of imports. The imports are largely of wheat. Now with the international trade sanctions on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, new sources of wheat will have to be found when the quantity required could rise to almost 5 million tons given the failure of the current wheat crop.
(The writer is Professor Emeritus at BNU and former Federal Minister)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022