PAKISTAN and China on Tuesday agreed that the implementation of the second phase of China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement (FTA) would lead to more trade, economic and investment opportunities between the two countries. During a meeting between Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People, both sides noted that frequent bilateral exchanges were contributing to elevating the bilateral cooperative partnership to new heights.
The visit of the Prime Minister to the friendly country carried great political, strategic and economic significance and this was evident from what transpired during high level meetings and agreements reached between the two countries. The most important aspect of the outcome was reiteration by Premier Li that his country firmly supports Pakistan in defending its sovereignty, territorial integrity and legitimate rights, adding that China always regarded its relations with Pakistan as a priority. This is reassuring for people of Pakistan who are facing challenges to their legitimate rights and interests due to hegemonic, expansionist and extremist policies being adopted by India, which present potent threat to the core interests of Pakistan. In this backdrop, clear-cut assurance of the Chinese leader that his country will continue supporting Pakistan in not only its national development, but also regional and international affairs by helping it play a more active role is meaningful and convey the right message to all concerned. In fact, China has always demonstrated its sincerity towards Pakistan and gave practical political and economic support to help the country safeguard its interests on economic and diplomatic fronts. The most glaring example of this commitment is the initiative of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that has already helped the country overcome its energy crisis and has the potential to address 21st Century needs for a modern infrastructure besides accelerating the pace of socio-economic development. This was also evident from the remarks of the Pakistan Prime Minister who told his Chinese counterpart that the transformational project of CPEC was pivotal to accelerating Pakistan’s economic development and regional prosperity and also apprised him of the actions taken recently by the government to fast track the CPEC projects and to push the development momentum in Gwadar. Now that CPEC Authority is being established through an ordinance, it is hoped that hurdles in expeditious implementation of projects would be removed and new ones would be identified and initiated without loss of time. It was not a coincident that the PTI Government announced liberal incentives and concessions to attract Chinese investment in Gwadar, the potential of which remained untapped despite completion of the port several years back. As the Prime Minister was talking to the Chinese leadership in Beijing, Chinese operators of Gwadar Port and its free zone vowed to make the coastal city the single largest contributor to Pakistan’s national economic output in seven years, saying 47,000 jobs will be created for locals with new investments worth billions of dollars. Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Haider Zaidi has also expressed the confidence that tax exemption to the China Overseas Ports Holding Company (COPHC) for 23 years would prove to be a step towards relocation of the Chinese manufacturing industry in Gwadar and engaging the local labour which would ultimately boost Pakistan’s economy. This is going to be a leap forward in exploiting the true potential of the port but it is unfortunate that we ourselves are lacking in efforts to facilitate this process. It is ironical that despite completion of the port years ago, we have not completed infrastructure projects to connect the port city with rest of the country or provide basic services to potential investors. Chinese are ready to turn the tide in seven years and now it depends on us to complement their efforts to realize the objective even before. As for exports to China, we may not be able to fulfil our dream of enhancing them meaningfully despite second phase of free trade agreement in the absence of necessary incentives and concessions to our industry. Prime Minister Imran Khan has done well in inviting the Chinese Prime Minister to visit Pakistan at the earliest opportunity. Pakistan government ought to work hard to identify more areas of cooperation so that such a visit, whenever takes place, results into tangible benefits to Pakistan.