U.S. Non-Committal on Closer Trade Ties with Pakistan
A three-day visit to Washington, D.C., by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif concluded Oct. 23 with no firm commitment by the U.S. on expanding bilateral trade ties. Ahead of Sharif’s trip Pakistani business representatives had urged him to push for a bilateral free trade agreement and expanded eligibility for Pakistani goods under the Generalized System of Preferences.
A White House fact sheet said Sharif “highlighted his keen interest in expanding bilateral trade and investment” during his talks with President Obama, but Sharif said nothing about the issue at a joint press conference prior to his departure. Instead, the fact sheet noted, U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman will invite his Pakistani counterpart to Washington to discuss the issue further at a meeting of the council established under the two countries’ 2003 trade and investment framework agreement. The two leaders also directed their senior officials to develop a joint action plan to expand trade and investment flows over the next five years and expressed their intention to hold the third U.S.-Pakistan Economic Opportunities Conference in the next year. Economic cooperation will also be on the agenda of the next meeting of the ministerial-level Strategic Dialogue, which will be held in Washington next March.
Prior to Sharif’s visit, Pakistani business group leaders said the U.S. should act to allow increased imports from Pakistan in return for that country’s participation and cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Among the developments they advocated were the negotiation of an FTA and the expansion of GSP eligibility to include more Pakistani textile and apparel goods. They pointed out that Pakistan’s exports to the U.S. currently total about $3.7 billion but have the potential go much higher, noting that such an increase would yield higher domestic employment and thus reduce the attractiveness of terrorist groups.