The free trade agreement between Pakistan and Sri Lanka will be taken to the next level when Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif visits the island in the first week of January 2016.
This was told to this reporter by Pakistan's visiting Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir at a function in Colombo on Tuesday. He termed this 'exalted' level as FTA (free trade agreement) Two (2).
The annual US$ 450 million trade between the two countries which is in favour of Pakistan is a fraction of Sri Lanka's total world trade which is in the region of $ 30,000 million. "The FTA is at a plateau, it will be raised to the level of FTA 2 during Sharif's visit", the Minister said.
Dastgir said that Sharif's visit will bring with it two sets of lists of tradeable items, one in favour of Pakistan and the other in Sri Lanka's favour, which would entail the broadening of tax concessions and quotas of items which the two countries want to export to each other.
"As it currently stands, the status quo vis-à-vis Sri Lanka-Pakistan FTA (SPFTA) remains unchanged however", the Minister said.
With reference to tea, which exports are quota restricted, he said that Sri Lanka is not fully utilizing its quota, to which Sri Lanka's Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen who was also present at this occasion nodded in assent.
"I think it's also the case with ceramic ware and garments", said Dastgir, when this reporter brought-up these two export sub sectors to Dastgir, two other export strong points in Sri Lanka's economy, which penetration too to the Pakistani market is however regulated by quotas and/or import taxes.
Bathiudeen told this reporter that trade between the two countries is envisaged to hit the US$ one billion mark by 2018.
Meanwhile, Dastgir speaking at Tuesday's function said that flights between the two countries will be enhanced. "The move between the two countries is for a deep economic partnership," he said. Both countries now enjoy a period of peace, the minister said.
Now is the time for economic integration and shared prosperity, he said. Pakistan's economy is stabilized, it's reconnected to the world, the Minister said. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is to Sri Lanka's advantage, said Dastgir.
Sri Lanka-Pakistan Friendship Association President – Ifthikar Aziz, in his speech said that the FTA battles between the two countries needed to be sorted out for trade to hit the $ one billion goal.
Pakistan-Sri Lanka Business Council President Rohitha Thilakaratne said that Pakistan has a growing middle class which needs to be exploited by the island.