Pakistan Already Holding Trade Talks With UK, Minister Confirms

Pakistan is already brokering an interim trade deal with Britain ahead of a bilateral free trade deal to be thrashed out after Brexit takes place, the country’s commerce minister has confirmed.

Indicating that Brexit was a “tremendous loss” for Pakistan as nearly a quarter of the country’s exports to the EU go to Britain, Pakistani Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan told EurActiv that he was already in talks on putting in place a parallel GSP-Plus deal with Britain to mimic that already held with the EU, to ease the Brexit transition.

The Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) Plus system, adopted by the EU with reference to Pakistan in 2013, allows almost 20 per cent of Pakistani exports to enter the EU market tariff-free and 70 per cent at preferential rates as a “special incentive” for good governance and sustainable development.

“Immediately after Brexit happened (well, the referendum happened, Brexit hasn’t happened yet), I got endless queries from exporters about GSP-Plus, and whether it’s going to go on,” Khan said.

“So we have been able to give them some comfort that we expect at least until March 2019, that GSP-Plus will persist, and be available.

“There are in fact now discussions with the Department of International Trade.

“It our suggestion to them that perhaps the simplest way to go forward is for the UK to adopt a GSP-Plus like facility and allow it to run until the EU facility runs [out], 31 December 2023.

“Since it doesn’t require any changes in the current UK regime […] this will be the simplest and most time-efficient way of going about it.

“And once we are agreed on that, then perhaps in the later part of 2019 or 2020, we can begin negotiation on a longer-term agreement. It would be a free trade agreement.”

Khan confirmed that he had been in contact with Britain’s minister for international trade, Liam Fox, immediately following the referendum to suggest the plan and had received “positive feedback”. In September 2016, representatives from Pakistan flew to Britain to hold initial talks.

“So we are quite hopeful that we will have a positive short-term conclusion of our trading arrangements. And then of course that will provide us with the breathing space to prepare for a more longer and tougher negotiation in two years’ time,” he said.

He strongly agreed with the suggestion that Britain leaving the EU meant that Pakistan was losing its “best friend” in the bloc, saying: “Oh yes. Britain’s presence in the European Union was a great source of support for us because of our historical ties.

“It’s not just history, you know, it’s also language. With our British colleagues, it’s always been very easy to express ourselves, clearly and formally.”

Khan praised the GSP Plus deal for its emphasis on promoting “better implementation of the rights under Pakistan’s constitution and our international obligations on human rights, children’s rights and minority rights”.

His comments come as the World Watch List 2017 on Christian persecution, compiled by charity Open Doors, showed that Pakistan had risen to fourth place for how badly Christians are treated, up from eighth place in 2015.

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