Pakistan has always been seen vehemently declaring the importance of friendly bilateral trade relations but it is surprising that no Muslim country has a Free or Preferential Trade Agreement with Pakistan. This matter was brought up in the National Assembly on Monday but the Minister for Commerce, Khurram Dastgir. The last deals were struck with Malaysia and Indonesia in 2007. With a large number of expatriates living in the Gulf States, and a booming remittance economy, it is strange that we don’t have trading ties with the Arab states.

Only the EU has preferential agreements with Pakistan. Our exports to European Union increased more rapidly in 2014 than many regional competitors including Bangladesh, India and Vietnam. With a potential market for export diversification and enhancement of commodities such as, tea, paper, coal, spare parts, machinery, steel and chemical products, why is it that trade is limited to the EU? Do other Muslims states not trust trade relations with Pakistan? Is Pakistan not competitive enough to be given preferential access? Or is it simply, that we just do not try to expand further?

One can look at lack of political will, cross-border disputes and mistrust being major factors hampering the development of trade among Muslim countries. Trade among Muslim states, according to the Islamic Development Bank, accounts for less than six per cent of the global trade. While North American states, East Asian states and the European states have successfully created trade blocs, Muslim states, abundant from the Levant to the Himalayas have missed out on a potentially powerful economic trade bloc in the last forty years.

There is vast potential amongst the Muslim countries to start trading. While our core exports are increasingly facing competition from Vietnam and Bangladesh in Europe, we need to discover more markets. It is time for local business and national planners to look beyond just oil and gas when it comes to trade with Muslim states.