by Zia Ur Rehman

June 17, 2012

KARACHI – A trade delegation from Afghanistan attended a business symposium where Pakistanis and Afghans could explore the possibilities of further expanding bilateral trade.

Pakistani traders visit a stall sponsored by the Pak-Afghan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the “My Karachi” exhibition July 14 at the Karachi Expo Centre. Experts say Pakistani traders are exploring opportunities in various sectors in Afghanistan. [Zia Ur Rehman]
“My Karachi,” organised by the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), was held July 13-15 at the Karachi Expo Centre. More than 200 stalls displayed products from local and foreign exhibitors.

The Afghan trade delegation was that country’s first one to visit Pakistan since the Pak-Afghan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PAJCCI) was formed in March. Atiqullah Mehmoodzada, vice-president of the PAJCCI Afghanistan chapter, led his country’s team.

Afghan and Pakistani traders are interesting in exploring opportunities in sectors such as cement, sugar, textile, dried fruits, timber products and coal, said Anwar Khan, a Karachi-based commerce journalist.

“We are also interested in sectors of food, heavy machinery, spare-parts and carpets,” said Abdul Ehsan Momand, a member of the Afghan traders’ delegation.

PAJCCI strengthens Pak-Afghan economic ties

The formation of the PAJCCI should strengthen economic ties, facilitate peace prospects and boost trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan, business leaders and analysts of both countries said.

The PAJCCI will not only increase the trade volume between the countries but also curb smuggling, which contributes to losses in both countries, supporters say.

PAJCCI is an initiative of the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and three Pakistani chambers of commerce and has the support of the two governments. The PAJCCI has two offices, one in Karachi and the other in Kabul, and the presidency of the group will alternate between the countries annually.

“The initiative of PAJCCI has all the support of the private sector and the governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan,” said Zubiar Motiwala, a prominent Karachi-based businessman, elected in March as the group’s first president.

Pak-Afghan trade enhancement

The existing trade volume of US $3 billion (Rs. 283 billion) could grow to US $6 billion (Rs. 566 billion) in the next three years with an active role of PAJCCI members, Motiwala said.

One major benefit of PAJCCI will be to reduce losses smuggling causes to the national exchequers, he said.

“Currently, smuggled goods worth $2.5 billion (Rs. 236 billion) are coming back to Pakistan,” he said. About 30% of the total containerised cargo under the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement, a pact announced a year ago, is unaccounted for, causing Pakistan to lose billions of rupees in duties, he said.

Motiwala also urged the private sector of Pakistan to come forward and utilise this chamber for trade promotion. He said the chamber will also help Pakistan pursue a gas and electricity deal with Turkmenistan.

The group will also explore increasing the frequency of rail service because truck transit has created many problems, such as militant attacks, Motiwala said. A PAJCCI delegation will meet with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardai and Afghan President Hamid Karzai soon.

Trade prospects

PAJCCI Co-President Haji Khan Jan Alokozai was optimistic about the potential for growth in trade, which rose from US 53.2m (Rs. 5 billion) in 2005 to US 191m (Rs. 18.1 billion) in 2009, according to a report,“Afghanistan in Transition.”

“Before 2001, the trade between both countries was limited as Pakistani traders were able to transport their products merely to Jalalabad and not beyond there,” Alokozai said, adding that now Pakistanis are able to find new venues beyond Kabul in Afghanistan and in Central Asia, broadening their trade horizons.

Alokozai asked both governments not to allow trade between both countries to fall victim to political disputes and to keep economic issues safe. He also hoped the PAJCCI would help permanently solve issues big and small.

He also suggested working with the Pakistani ports and shipping authorities to speed up the cargo clearance operations, particularly at Karachi Port Trust, as delays in delivering goods to the Afghan markets were costing importers money.