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Wednesday, March 22, 2023
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Untapped trade potential

The discussion about promoting trade ties and preparation for exchange of visits by respective premiers from Pakistan and Bangladesh, augur well for improving relations between the two South Asian countries. The current volume of bilateral trade between Pakistan and Bangladesh did not reflect the enormous potential that existed between the two countries. Wisdom demands that the neighbours should double their efforts to achieve the target of trade volume. The current trade volume between Pakistan and Bangladesh hovers around US$800 million and needs actions from both sides for removing hurdles. Barriers to improving trade include tariff and para-tariff barriers, complicated and non-transparent non-tariff measures, disproportionately high cost of trade, and trust deficit. What was listed as the fourth reason-trust deficit- is actually the real reason for the trade being far below potential between the two nations and unless trust improves, trade will not. Moreover, the Pakistan-Bangladesh relationship took a nosedive after Ms Hasina started her second tenure as prime minister in 2009 as she resumed the so-called 1971 ‘war crimes’ trial. Pakistan has also been accused of meddling in the internal affairs of Bangladesh. Pakistan should realise that Bangladesh is a sovereign state.

Due to political tensions, relations have remained strained between both states. The potential of trade is very high in the region, particularly in agricultural products, such as tea, rice, wheat, cotton and many other fruits and vegetables. Free trade and economic integration in region could thus lead to economic prosperity of the people in the region and might also lead to an ease in political tensions between the two countries. A European Union model might be a utopia as for now, but still even if trade policies are relaxed and trade is kept separate from politics, it could be advantageous for the whole region. The people-to-people contact is very strong in South Asia. For instance, majority of the people who travel to Pakistan or Bangladesh always talk about the hospitality they receive and also express the need to end the political tensions between countries. It is high time that Pakistan and Bangladesh focus their attention on trade, so that the potential of the whole region is realised. If Europe can give trade a chance, despite its past racial and ethnic tensions, then so can South Asia.

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