Colombo, July 13 (newsin.asia): Pakistan’s High Commissioner Maj.Gen (Rtd) Muhammad Saad Khattak said here on Tuesday, that a high-level delegation from the Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Pakistan is to visit Sri Lanka in two weeks’ time for discussions with the captains of Sri Lankan commerce and industry aimed at boosting bilateral economic ties.
The High Commissioner recalled that trade and investment were important areas discussed when the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, visited Colombo in April this year. As per the wishes of the Prime Minister, Pakistan is now guided by geo-economics rather more than geo-strategy and is interested in forging economic ties with other countries.
It might be recalled that during his two-day visit to Colombo, Premier Khan had invited Sri Lanka to join the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Despite the existence of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) since 2005, Sri Lanka-Pakistan trade is low and only inching forward. According to the Stimson Center, bilateral trade between Pakistan and Sri Lanka grew only marginally from US$ 180 million in 2004 to US$ 460 million in 2018. The removal of harmful trade barriers could take the bilateral trade up to US$ 2.7 billion, the Center said.
In February 2021, Commerce Secretaries from both sides agreed to revive the Joint Working Groups (JWGs) to address technical impediments to bilateral trade and effectively implement the FTA.
When a reporter asked why Pakistan is not buying more Sri Lankan tea, High Commissioner Khattak said that Sri Lankan tea is not competitive. It is exorbitantly priced, he said. Ceylon tea has yielded place to tea from countries like Kenya for example because of the high price and other factors like the taste. The Pakistani palate demands a different taste, he added and suggested that Sri Lankan entrepreneurs should try to be more competitive in the international market.
The High Commissioner was at pains to drive home the point that Pakistan is interested in cultivating relations with all communities in Sri Lanka and pointed out that he has visited the North and East of the island (inhabited by the minority Tamils and Muslims). Pakistan is interested in executing social welfare projects throughout the island across boundaries of ethnicity and religion, Gen.Khattak said.
In this connection, he noted that the Pakistan government has been giving thousands of scholarships to Sri Lankan students for studies in various subjects, including medicine, irrespective of ethnicity or religion. Lankan students do go to Pakistan to study, but more ought to go. He regretted that there is a lack of awareness of what Pakistan is offering and asked the media to help create awareness.
The High Commissioner drew attention to the fact that Pakistan is a treasure house of Buddhist archaeological sites, and that there are many sites beyond Swat. But there is more to Pakistan than its Buddhist sites, he added. There are mountains, lakes, deserts, and beaches, all in one country. Sri Lanka-Pakistan tourism is an area that is yet to be exploited.
When a reporter asked if countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka can resist pressure from China to accept its projects and commercial diktats, the High Commissioner said that it all depends on the leadership. The leadership should discuss issues raised by sections of the people and take a decision in the best interests of the country. However, he did not think that there is any undue pressure from China.