PESHAWAR: Federal Finance Minister Asad Umar on Monday stressed the need to increase regional trade and improve relations with neighbouring countries in order to boost the economy.
In an address at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Peshawar, the finance minister said that while it is a good thing that Islamabad’s relationship with Beijing is progressing and work on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is underway, there is “a need to improve relations and boost trade with [countries in] both the west and east of the region we live in”.
He insisted that Pakistan needed to “increase trade with Iran and Afghanistan with complete focus”. He also noted that officials from Western countries often say that regional trade is important and that Pakistan should improve trade relations with India.
“As far as the east is concerned, it seems that [there can be no progress] until elections are over in India. Half of their election campaigns are based on anti-Pakistan rhetoric, so right now they are busy with that. Once the elections are over, we hope that their behaviour will be better,” he said.
He also revealed that during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Turkey last year, Islamabad and Istanbul had agreed on working on a strategic economic framework. Pakistan will hand over the first draft of the framework to Turkey in February, he said. The Turkish delegation, that is working on the framework, is being led by the Turkish vice president, while the Pakistani side is being led by the finance minister himself.
“I said to the Turkish vice president that this [framework] should not just be limited to us. Our vision for the next 10, 20 years should be for Iran to become a part of this [economic framework] as well,” he said. “Iran, Pakistan and Turkey should obviously be a part of it. [Through this framework] Pakistan should become a gateway for Turkey so they can trade with India and China. And Turkey should become a gateway for Pakistan so we can trade with Europe and Central Asia states.”
He said that the geographical location of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was important in terms of establishing trade routes and it should be recognised in the national economic policy.
The finance minister also commented on the Afghan peace process and said that “Pakistan should play whatever role it can” in ensuring peace in the neighbouring country.
“It is clear to the people living in Peshawar and the rest of KP [that there should be peace in Afghanistan]. It should be clear to everyone that there can be no peace in Pakistan unless there is peace in Afghanistan.”
He acknowledged that trade had slowed down due to the closure of Torkham border and pointed out that the prime minister had already announced that the crossing should remain open 24 hours. However, he said, due to the slackness of government departments, progress was slow.