SYED MOHAMMAD TAHIR
LAHORE: It is a good omen that incumbent government of PML-N has clear intention to enhance bilateral relations with India and to increase volume of trade.
If this happens within a course of time, not only India but also Pakistan, especially Lahore, would be able to reap benefits of this enhanced trade as Lahore has complete infrastructure in the shape of different dry ports to handle bulk trade volume. Besides this, job opportunities would be generated and consumers would get different items on cheap rates because of bilateral trade between India and Pakistan. These views were expressed by Mughalpura Dry Port Deputy Collector Dr Rizwan Salabat while giving exclusive interview to Customs Today team at his office.
Dr Rizwan Salabat while highlighting the role of Lahore Dry Port (LDP) further said that currently the pace of business at LDP is at a normal pace but he hopes that after awarding MFN status to India, the volume of trade would touch a remarkable level. He further said that bilateral official trade between India and Pakistan had grown 21 per cent to $2.4 billion last year while unofficial trade is around $5 billion as most of importers import different Indian items through Singapore and Dubai which ultimately become expensive for end consumers, he added.
He further said that if both Indian and Pakistani governments reach a consensus point and successfully enhance official trade, not only both governments would get more revenue but importers and exporters of both countries could save extraordinary expenses while end consumers would also be able to buy same items at cheap rates. Dedicated and devoted Dr Rizwan further said that despite many restrictions, the volume of bilateral trade has recorded a net increase of $410 million from April last year to March this year and Pakistan’s exports to India grew 28pc while Indian exports to Pakistan has also been increased around 19 per cent.
Dr Rizwan Salabat opined that industries of Indian Punjab can reap maximum benefits if both governments agree to enhance the volume of trade as goods from Indian Punjab can reach at Mumbai port after 72 hours while same consignments can reach at Karachi port within 27 hours for export to Middle East. By using Punjab dry ports, especially Lahore Dry Port, Indian cargo shipments can generate revenue in bulk for Pakistan while Indian exporters can enjoy cheap means of transportation, he added.
A sober personality Dr Salabat further said that it is a matter of satisfaction that three bilateral agreements between Pakistan and India have already been signed in 2012 in the areas of Customs cooperation, mutual recognition of standards and addressing trade grievances. Only two governments have to give green signal for improving further trade environment. He was of the view that with the increase of trade volume, the Customs Department would mull to establish a separate Collectorate office at Lahore Dry Port to handle Indian cargo flow.
While replying a question, Dr Rizwan said that Customs Dept does not own Mughalpura Dry Port and it is being maintained and run by PR. As we know all that currently PR is unable to ply goods trains because of serious financial constraints, that was why, Customs Department has to renovate dry port building itself. The deteriorated condition of LDP infrastructure is due to Pakistan Railways’ indifferent attitude towards LDP. He, however, said that now PR department is taking steps to revive the activities of LDP.
While revealing the facts of LDP, Dr Rizwan divulged that some years ago, around 45 goods trains from Karachi to Lahore were plying but now only one or maximum two goods trains are running between Karachi and Lahore mainly because of shortage of locomotives, he said adding that most of importers clear their shipments at Karachi ports and only bonded cargo is being handled here at LDP since importers get cleared their shipments at cheap rates at Karachi ports as compared to Lahore Dry Port.
While dispelling wrong impression that Customs Department is not playing its pivotal role in generating revenue, Dr Rizwan said that Customs Department has been meeting its revenue collection targets since last many years while LDP has also collected more revenue compared to last years. He said that though LDP is showing upward trend of collecting revenue but technically it is a matter of displeasure as this revenue is being collected on imported items while countries grow by exporting up to their potentials.