The United States (US) has reportedly conveyed its serious concerns on the proposed new social media regulations with the possibility of Facebook and Pay Pal, social and e-commerce platforms, threatening to leave Pakistan, well informed sources in Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
The government had secretly issued social media rules but after criticism across the country, the government withdrew the notification and constituted a committee headed by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Chairman Amir Azeem Bajwa to finalise its recommendations and submit them to the government.
Digital media giants Facebook, Google and Twitter (among others), in a letter to the Prime Minister had already made it clear that they would suspend services in the country if new regulations approved by the Pakistani government are not revised.
Sharing the details, sources said, Pakistan ambassador to Washington met the acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells on March 11, 2020. During the discussion, Ambassador Wells shared the news that the visit of US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to Pakistan in February 2020 was the result of President Trump's initiative. She maintained that while the visit had generated positive optics, it was not going to produce anything in substance until confronting issues were addressed. Ambassador Wells suggested that Deputy Secretary of Commerce Karen Dunn Kelley's follow-up visit to Pakistan should be used to discuss outstanding issues.
Dilating further on the outstanding issues, Ambassador Wells mentioned payment to the five US energy firms that had invested in the Jhimpir wind farms. The US side had conveyed in their discussion with Ministry of Energy that "renegotiating the contract" or "withholding payment on non-technical reasons, such are the availability of a cheaper alternative, would be considered legitimate grounds for Pakistan's failure to abide with relevant commercial contracts."
"Any such step would send negative signals about the business environment in Pakistan," the sources quoted ambassador Wells as saying. She added that the US companies were confident that they would prevail if they approach the Court of Arbitration to enforce their contracts.
Wilbur Ross held meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan, Minister for Power Omar Ayub, Adviser on Finance and Revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Special Assistant on Petroleum Nadeem Babar and Adviser on Commerce and Industries and Production and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood and raised issues being faced by the American companies in Pakistan.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Wells also reiterated US concerns about the formulation of new social media regulations, noting that it would leave social and e-commerce platforms like Facebook and Pay Pal with no option but to leave Pakistan. She urged that the implementation of the regulations be suspended until discussions have been held between the government and the relevant US companies and other experts. The problems being faced by the US companies like Metlife in repatriating profits to the US also needs to be addressed, she added.
The sources said Secretary Ross will discuss issues related to American companies in different sectors as the responsibility of Secretary Commerce is to promote business of American companies. The issues related to Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and other trade related issues are in the domain of USTR.
Appreciating that United States Trade Representative (USTR) had received a response to his letter Ambassador Wells noted that the US still had concerns regarding soybean and GMO exports to Pakistan, adding that Washington wants a durable solution to the issue.