LAHORE: LCCI President Engineer Sohail Lashari said there are quite a few other things that if given proper direction could create a whole new lot of exporters. For instance, customs procedures need urgent corrective measures. It is not the customs laws alone that need improvement but the staff as well because being the wheels of the same vehicle they are needed to be aligned properly. Goods should be cleared in a day and unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles should be removed.
In an exclusive interview with Customs Today, the newly-elected President Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry Engineer Sohail Lashari spoke at length about the multifarious problems facing the national economy like stagnating exports, energy shortages and law and order situation.
Question: Our exports are stagnating. What measures do you think are needed to rejuvenate the export sector?
Comparatively low export volume is enough to make the point that the sector is faced with hiccups like complex customs procedures and lack of a mechanism to monitor the working of export-related departments. The countries much smaller than Pakistan are today far ahead and exporting more goods only because of good policy decisions.
Increased exports would give us much-needed comfort on many counts besides enabling us to get rid of foreign financial assistance and resultant dictates.
Mughalpura Dry Port should be made functional by ensuring state-of-the-art systems in order to collect sixty percent of the revenue in Punjab.
There was a time when freight trains could be seen in large numbers. But now the port is giving a deserted look, unfortunately, increasing cost per unit for importers and exporters alike.
Infrastructure development at the Wagah-Attari Border for facilitation of exporters and importers should also be done on urgent basis.
India rules out increasing trade ties with Pakistan unless it is given MFN status. What is your take on this?
It doesn’t make any difference whether Pakistan gives India MFN status or not but what really matters is the ultimate goal. I mean to say that both the sides should work in complete harmony to jack-up the volume of two-way trade in the larger interests of the people in this part of the world. If we work with a positive mind, we are ultimate winner.
I am an avid advocate of trade among the regional countries and particularly with the bordering states. We can easily ward off the intensity of global financial threats by increasing our trade in the region. There is no second opinion that a lot of trade is being done via third world countries that could easily be channelized in the larger interest of one third of world’s total population.
What do you think about GSP Plus status of Pakistan?
GSP Plus status for Pakistan is, no doubt, a great development. However, I fear we are not ready to avail the opportunity fully due to an acute shortage of energy.
We need to work on war-footing to ensure uninterrupted supply of electricity to the industry in order to cope with the GSP Plus facility.
Energy is the biggest challenge and terrorism is the gravest threat. Both require out-of-the-box solution to put economy back on rails.
Compliance with international standards pertaining to exports is a prerequisite to open the doors of shopping malls of the world.
What should the government be doing to get cheaper electricity for industrialization?
Had a little attention been given towards the construction of water reservoirs, the economic scenario would have been quite encouraging. The import bill would have been well within our limits. Actually, Pakistan needs cheaper electricity that is only possible through hydel means. All the other energy generation methodologies are comparatively costly. There is a dire need to launch a thorough probe to identify the elements responsible for pushing the country into the darkness for their small and one-time gains. You are well aware of the fact that a number of regional players are far ahead of us as far as economy is concerned. They did not use any magic wand rather they reviewed their policies and did necessary legislation to facilitate their export sector.
Are you satisfied with the law and order situation of Pakistan?
Law and order is another area that should immediately be focused as the perception of the country needs to be corrected. We are a victim of biased western projections. Undue and unwanted projection of law and order related issues in the world media had made us ‘bad boy’ which is totally unjustified and unrealistic. Deteriorated law and order situation is also hitting exports hard as new buyers are reluctant to visit Pakistan because of wrong perception being portrayed in the western media. It is actually the task of the government to put into motion all diplomatic channels to highlight the potential of Pakistan and to market it well.
Do you agree with the philosophy that in order to accelerate economic progress Public Sector Enterprises should be privatized?
Well, I think either all these Public Sector Enterprises should be privatized or new administration should be installed to turn them profitable.
Why has Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) been falling for the last five years?
Risk perception about investing in Pakistan is one of the impediments to the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) that fell sharply in the last five years and now it needs to be tackled through a comprehensive policy approach by involving all the leading Chambers of Commerce and Industry in the country. The fall in Foreign Direct Investment had affected adversely the country’s economic growth therefore the government should adopt remedial measures to reverse this trend and to attract foreign investment. The government would have to develop a dedicated department to facilitate the foreign investment in the country. For instance, one-window system could be introduced to give all required information to the foreign investors.
How can the menace of smuggling be controlled?
It is only possible by rationalizing duties and taxes on smuggling prone items and strict implementation of laws dealing with this curse.
What are LCCI plans for the revival of economic activities?
The Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry is planning to establish a 50MW power station on self-finance basis and for this purpose a special team had already been constituted that is preparing working paper to initiate the project. The objective is to motivate the private sector and to supplement government’s efforts aimed at revival of the economy.
Customs Clearing Agents recently had a meeting with you. How the chamber would help them solving their issues?
They actually wanted LCCI help over the revival of business at the Lahore Dry Port that was once a hub of activities. The Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry would extend every possible help to the Lahore Customs Agents Association in this regard and all the authorities concerned would be contacted soon to get the issue resolved.
How can the business community help government collect more revenue to make Pakistan a better place?
It is not the task of the business community rather the government should come forward to give confidence to the businessmen that the taxes they are paying would be utilized for their well-being. In my suggestion, the government at the initial stage should introduce nominal fix tax for small businessmen and in this way the government would be able to bridge tax-to-GDP ratio besides getting more revenues.