Senate body grills ministry over poor performance

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ISLAMABAD: Senate Standing Committee on Commerce on Tuesday grilled the Commerce Ministry for poor performance, sharing obsolete information about Strategic Trade Policy Framework (STPF) and absence of Secretary Commerce from the meeting.

Presided over by Senator Zeeshan Khanzada, the Committee deferred the agenda with a warning that Committee members will boycott meetings if Secretary Commerce failed to make himself available in future.

Some of the senators maintained that they had come from Karachi and Quetta for the meeting, but the Secretary did not bother to attend it. They further stated that the briefing given on the Commerce Ministry’s performance and future strategy was like a film which they had watched for years.

Senator Danish Kumar and Senator Ahmed Khan walked out of the meeting in protest against absence of Secretary Commerce Sualeh Ahmad Faruqui who, according to Additional Secretary Dr Ahmed Mujtaba Memon, was in Karachi to discuss important issues related to Expo 2021.

However, some Committee Members brought their angry colleagues back to the Committee room and wrote a warning letter to the Secretary Commerce and handed it over to Chairman of the Committee.

Chairman Standing Committee remarked that he would also walk out of the meeting, if such an embarrassing situation happened in future.

Senator Fida Muhammad requested Chairman Standing Committee to write a letter to Chairman Senate on the attitude of Secretary Commerce.

Meanwhile, Advisor to Prime Minister on Commerce and Investment, Abdul Razak Dawood reached the meeting and poured water on the fiery situation by offering an apology on the absence of Secretary.

He also made the Committee members laugh when he said that Secretary Commerce was not in touch with him too.

“I apologise on the absence of Secretary Commerce. In fact, I am also in search of Secretary Commerce. I called him today but he did not pick up the phone. Then I decided to call his Secretary but I was told that he is on leave,” said Dawood.

Director General (Trade Policy), Waqas Azeem briefed the Committee on STFP 2020-25, saying the targets of two previous trade policies were not based on ground realities as export targets were too high which could not be achieved. He said the main focus of both policies was on three markets including China and European Union (EU).

He maintained that exports had posted growth in FY 2020-21 as compared to FY 2019-20 because orders of other countries were diverted to Pakistan due to Covid-19 situation.

However, when Committee members sought details of orders which were diverted to Pakistan, DG, (Trade Policy) declined to share the information on the plea that exporters did not share buyers’ information with the Ministry because they feared that the information might be leaked to their competitors.

Committee members argued that if DG (TP) did not have such information, then what type of information was he sharing with the Committee? Senator Palwasha Khan enquired sarcastically if exports came through smuggling, adding that exports were from the documented economy and therefore destination of export orders should be known.

Additional Secretary, Additional Secretary (Trade Policy), Dr Ahmed Mujtaba Memon claimed that the incumbent government reduced energy rates for five export-oriented sectors for the first time in the country’s history even though the first time energy rates were reduced was during PML-N government.

Additional Secretary further stated that the government rationalized duties on raw materials due to which exports crossed $25 billion.

On a question about the absence of Director General (Textile), Kunwar Usman, Additional Secretary informed the Committee that he was from the private sector. He has salary issues and may not be part of Commerce Ministry.

Committee members enquired if reduced rate of energy for the export-oriented industry was subsidy, to which Razak Dawood replied that people said it was subsidy but it was actually cross subsidy. He added that globally energy tariffs were lower for export industry but in Pakistan it was not so.

He informed the Committee that non-traditional sectors were being included in sectors which were being incentivised. “Marble, minerals and fisheries will also be included in the sectors which are being incentivised in the next trade policy.”

He said, entire proposed incentives for auto sector have not been approved, adding export of motorcycles has already started but export of cars appears to be a challenge.

Razak Dawood informed the Committee that Pakistan would start export of mobile phones by January 2022 and two Chinese companies would take the lead. One Chinese company has set up industry in Karachi.

He said M/s Samsung was asked twice to set up factory in Pakistan and government would give incentives but they refused. When two Chinese companies set up their factories, Samsung approached the government for incentives, adding that now the company would have to set up factory on already available incentives.

Razak Dawood maintained that tariff was rationalized in a way that if an investor came in for 10 years in Pakistan, tariff would remain the same. He said tariff would also be rationalised for the food sector that year.

He said all duties on pharmaceuticals had been eliminated due to which that sector was now ready to export.

During the meeting, Razak Dawood said a couple of months ago rice exporters came to him and informed him that China imposed a ban on Pakistani rice after detecting Coronavirus (dead virus) on the surface of plastic packing bags. This issue has been resolved and 80 percent consignments are cleared.

Virus was also detected in Pakistani sea food consignments reaching China but the virus inside the packing material of consignments was alive. Last month, nine companies were banned and this month restrictions have been imposed on six Pakistani companies. Commerce Ministry has asked companies to get sanitary and phytosanitary inspection of their consignments.

Executive Director General, Syed Rafeo Bashir Shah, informed the committee that Chinese companies had tasked Maritime Fisheries Department to inspect seafood consignments destined for China which had not performed well. Now Commerce Ministry has adopted a harsher tone with Maritime Fisheries Department.

Senator Danish Kumar informed the Committee that Chinese, Korean and Japanese trawlers were fishing in Pakistan waters illegally due to which local fishermen were facing hunger like situation. He said Pakistan’s seafood exports could earn $2 billion per annum if incentives were given to local industry. He suggested that local fishermen should be given modern technology for fishing. He also suggested ban should be imposed on fishing by foreign fishermen.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021



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