ISLAMABAD -  Pakistan and Saudi Arabia on Wednesday agreed to initiate discussion on preferential trade agreement (PTA) by April 2018 and to remove the obstacles that hinder smooth flow of industrial products to each other’s markets.

Both the sides also agreed to establish the commission on trade, economic and investment and technical commission for human and cultural resources, consular affairs and security affairs. Both the countries had made the agreement in the 11th Session of Pakistan–Saudi Arabia Joint Ministerial Commission. The session was co-chaired by Minister for Commerce and Textile Mohammad Pervaiz Malik and Saudi Arabia’s Minister for Trade & Investment Dr Majid Bin Abdullah Al Qasabi.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia agreed to establish a joint working group (JWG) comprising of ministries of commerce, revenue departments and investment promotion agencies of both the countries to enhance mutual trade and investment. The process of nominations and notifications of the JWG shall be completed by April 1, 2018. Given the efficacy of fairs and exhibitions in terms of introduction of indigenous products in each other’s markets, it was agreed that Trade Development Authority of Pakistan will hold single-country exhibition in Saudi Arabia in 2019 with the cooperation of ministry of commerce and investment, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

With the intention of facilitating business travel between the two countries, it was agreed that concerned authorities on both sides will undertake necessary measures so as to ensure that starting from April 1, business delegation visas on both sides shall be processed and issued within two weeks. It was also agreed that both sides shall undertake a 50% reduction in business visa fees on reciprocal basis by April 1. It was mutually agreed to remove the obstacles that hinder smooth flow of industrial products to each other’s markets. In this regard, Pakistan’s side requested Saudi side to simplify procedure of opening LCs at Saudi Banks, so as to avoid procedural delays. The Saudi side agreed to resolve the issue.

The commission called for activating the Saudi-Pakistan business council and to conduct its regular meetings preferably on biannual basis. It was agreed that Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry and Council of Saudi Chambers will complete the nominations by February, 2018 and the council shall hold its first meeting in the first half of the year 2018. It was further agreed that the council shall be nominated for tenure of two years and the 1st meeting shall be convened by May 2018.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia also agreed that concerned authorities in two countries will cooperate to share information and expertise, on reciprocal basis, pertaining to commercial fraud, customs smuggling as well as the methods and means to combat them. Pakistan’s side requested for lifting of ban on import of shrimps by Saudi Arabia. Saudi side, recognising the fact that government of Pakistan has provided the requisite assurances, agreed that the said ban shall be lifted by January 30, 2018. Following visit of SFDA (Saudi Food and Drug Authority) delegation to Pakistan in October 2017, the Saudi side was also requested to take necessary steps to facilitate import of Pakistani meat and meat products.

Since the life insurance is being done by private companies, there is a need of Pakistani public sector insurance company to be registered by Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) to grant life insurance to the Pakistani expatriates in Saudi Arabia. In this regard, State Life Insurance Company (SLIC) will be registered and license to operate as Single Entity Insurance Company in Saudi Arabia shall be granted by Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), instead of Quadri-partite arrangements prevalent in Saudi Arabia for the working of insurance companies. Furthermore, the condition of a static security deposit of 100 million Dirhams will also be waived off.

Commercial attache will soon be designated in Saudi Embassy, Islamabad. Pakistani side stressed the importance of cooperation between Saudi oil and gas companies to develop oil production in Pakistan including setting up of refineries. Both sides agreed to expedite negotiations to finalise the MoU between central banks of two countries. Both side will exchange and share security information and the expertise in the field of combating terrorism, organised crimes and money laundering. The Saudi side praised the Pakistani pilgrims.

A draft agreement on the transfer of sentenced prisoners is likely to be signed at an early date. The commission encouraged exchange visits of the officials from the media field, share television cultural programmes, documentaries, facilitate the missions of the official radio and television delegations between the two countries. The Saudi side informed that there is a Saudi Royal decree to establish labor attache in Pakistan and one of the mandates of this attache is to approve the labor training centres to train manpower in accordance with the Saudi requirements. It was agreed to encourage cooperation in the fields of scientific researches, exchange of scholarships and experiences in health teaching and medical staff and exchange of student visits.

Pakistani side requested increasing scholarships for Pakistani students studying in Saudi universities. It was also agreed that there will be cooperation in science and technology and exchange of research expertise. Pakistan offered Saudi Civil Aviation training courses at civil aviation training institute, Hyderabad in the field of air traffic control, communication, navigation and surveillance engineering and aviation management. Saudi Ministry of Health will continue the cooperation in the field of recruiting qualified and trained Pakistani medical personnel to work in the Kingdom focusing on consultants, specialists and nurses in critical healthcare. For focused and regular sectoral liaison, both sides agreed to nominate the focal persons from both sides for cooperation in the fields of trade, energy, investment, education, agriculture, etc.

Earlier, addressing the session, the minister for commerce and textile said that currently bilateral trade between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is around $2.5 billion, which is far below the true potential and needs to be enhanced by taking concrete measures. He also requested Saudi government to enhance the quota of jobs for Pakistani workers, as the Kingdom would usher in creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs in construction and services sectors under the launching of vision 2030. He invited Saudi Arabia to invest in renewable energy projects and agriculture and livestock sectors.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has hoped that Pak-Saudi Joint Ministerial Commission would help enhance and strengthen bilateral economic relations between the two countries.

Premier Abbasi was talking to Dr Majed Abdullah Al-Qasabi, Minister of Commerce and Investment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Dr Al-Qasabi is visiting Pakistan as a head of a 35-member Saudi delegation to participate in the 11th session of Pak-Saudi Joint Ministerial Commission.

The PM welcomed the holding of 11th session of Pak-Saudi Joint Ministerial Commission, which is expected to enhance and strengthen bilateral economic relations. The substantive decisions taken during the meeting of the Pak-Saudi JMC were also discussed with the Prime Minister. These included establishment of a working group for export of Halal food from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia, Saudi investment in the construction of the South-North Gas Pipeline, accelerated negotiations on a bilateral investment treaty and exchange of parliamentary delegations.

In the context of export of Pakistani manpower to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi side agreed to set up a training institute in Pakistan to help meet its human resource requirements. A delegation from the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development would also be received in Saudi Arabia early next week. Also the Executive Director of NAVTTC has been invited to visit Saudi Arabia. The Saudi side also agreed to visa relaxation and reduction in visa fees for Pakistanis.

The PM underscored that relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were not only important for the Government of Pakistan but that the people of Pakistan have a special affection for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Khadim-e-al-Harmain Al-Sharifain. Dr Al-Qasabi also emphasised the importance attached by Saudi Arabia to the special relationship with Pakistan.