KARACHI - Ambassador of Iraq in Pakistan Dr Ali Yasin Mohammed Karim has underscored the need for inking a ‘twin cities agreement’ between Pakistan and Iraq, which, he argued, would not only help in dealing with visa issues but will also pave the way for bringing people more closer to each other and enhancing trade.

He suggested that this could be done either by declaring Karachi and Basra or Karachi and Najaf or any other city as ‘twin cities’

Exchanging views at a meeting during his visit to the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) here on Wednesday, the Iraqi ambassador said by declaring any city in Iraq and Karachi as twin cities the two countries would relieve themselves of visa issues, as people will be able to move between the twin cities freely.

The ambassador further said that Iraq had some factories, including 18 cement manufacturing factories, but these were not properly functional as compared to Pakistan’s advanced industrial units and infrastructure. “As factories in Iraq need improvements, therefore the private and public sectors of Iraq and Pakistan can undertake joint ventures in all the sectors of economy,” he said, and added, “We prefer joint ventures in private sector which are quicker as compared to joint ventures in public sector.”

Karim said that currently Iraq mostly bought goods from China, India and some other countries whereas Pakistan could also enhance its trade share and efficiently compete with Chinese and Indian products through quality control.

“Four months ago, Iraq imported hundreds of tonnes of rice from India and the first shipment of Indian rice was good but the second shipment was 100 percent rotten, which discouraged the Iraqi importers,” the envoy added.

Subsequently, the Iraqi embassy in Pakistan was asked to find anyone who could export rice to Iraq.

This trade inquiry was forwarded from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to all chambers of commerce in Pakistan but nobody has answered us yet,” he added.

To a query regarding trade opportunities in Iraq, he stressed the need for frequent meetings between Karachi Chamber and Chambers of Commerce in Basra, Baghdad or Najaf in order to explore not just the fabric market but also other markets, saying Iraq required almost everything so the business community of Karachi should not confine itself to fabric market only.

Commenting on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the envoy said that Iraq was considering establishing gas terminals at Port Qasim and Gwadar, worth billions of dollars. “After CPEC becomes operational, many ports in the region will be paralyzed and Pakistan will be a rich country whereas most of the Pakistanis residing abroad especially in the Gulf region will return to their homes,” he added.

Earlier, KCCI President Shamim Ahmed Firpo, while welcoming the Iraqi ambassador, said that with improved law and order situation and on completion of CPEC and Gwadar Port, the region was likely to attract substantial amount of foreign investment from different parts of the world whereas Iraq could also benefit from the situation by investing or undertaking joint ventures in Pakistan, particularly in Karachi.

Expressing concern over insignificant volume of trade between Pakistan and Iraq, Shamim Firpo said that although the trade relations were not very strong, but Pakistan's exports to Iraq were still visible while Iraq's exports to Pakistan were negligible and needed to be enhanced. “During FY16, Pakistan's exports to Iraq declined by 63 percent to $13.74 million against $36.69 million during the same period last year,” he said, and added, “Imports from Pakistan were merely $0.16 million against imports of $0.15 million in FY15.”