Senate Standing Committee on Commerce on Wednesday criticized the Commerce Ministry for preparing a “visionless” Strategic Trade Policy Framework (STPF) 2015-18 and highlighted the continuous decline in exports. The Committee went to the extent of suggesting that the government should close its trade offices established in foreign countries. Not only has there been no visible benefit to Pakistani trade, but trade consular posts are filled by political favouritism rather than merit, and even after their term has expired, these men continue to reside abroad forcefully by obtaining stay orders.

All sectors including sugar, steel and garments are expressing reservations over the policies of the incumbent government. The general sentiment is that agriculture is being destroyed due to Free Trade Agreement’s that leave a weak local industry exposed. Increase in exports from 2010-11 to 2013-14, were because of international prices rather than local innovation or growth, by the Ministry of Commerce’s own admission. When questioned by the Senate Committee, the officials from the Ministry of Commerce failed to provide details of increase in quantity of exported products, saying they do not have data. It is inexcusable that a Ministry had no data available and that it could not defend itself against criticism.

Apart from out local problems of energy and resources, the bureaucracy of Pakistan has not made it easy for international trade to flourish. Trade offices abroad are meant to facilitate liberalisation, improve export competitiveness and reduce the cost of doing business through international lobbying. The point is to achieve higher market access for Pakistani products in foreign markets. The trade offices are like PR offices for Pakistani goods, and we don’t even have to look too closely to see that the Trade Missions have failed in their aims. By now, there should have been trade exerts trained in international trade law, to represent Pakistani exports across the globe. Pakistan has no experts to fight international trade disputes and often consular and trade representatives have no knowledge of trade rules and laws. Cronyism in diplomacy must end and trade has to be one sector where there can be no appointments made without merit and expertise.