MFN concerns | Pakistan Today

MFN concerns

Farmers Associates Pakistan (FAP) has raised valid objections over the MFN debate, even if its voice all but drowned in the recent “win-win” euphoria. It’s a good thing that the commerce ministry noticed Indian intransigence immediately following the celebrated Fahim-Sharma summit in Delhi, and halted the grant. No doubt GoP was eager to push the deal through once the Indians agreed to barter it for removing objections to Pakistan’s special trade package in the European Union. But with the promise proving hollow, as usual, the deal has lost its rationale, especially since the EU concern is time-bound.
The bottle-neck also gives the government time to do its homework properly. Apparently, India heavily subsidises its agriculture sector, much in contrast to the fortunes of our largest national employer. And free access to Indian produce, while New Delhi sticks to its non-tariff barriers, seriously risks compromising our own production, diluting long term benefits of even EU-like initiatives.
FAP’s argument also raises concern about other important factors concerning agriculture. While the 18th amendment was a step in the right direction, it has little face value, and must be followed by properly transferring the operational mechanism to provinces. Currently, a void exists in the agriculture domain, along with other heads transferred to provinces, with decision-making practically paralysed. And the FAP’s threat of physically limiting Indian agri-imports indicates the level of their frustration with relevant official bodies.
The government is reminded that while increased EU access is rightly pursued, the country’s agri-fortunes should not be used as a bargaining chip, especially not when subsequent trade interaction can upset our subsistence calculus. With hindsight, it seems the Fahim-Sharma affair was just another rushed job. If it hadn’t caved in on its own, we would’ve come perilously close to hurting the most crucial employment and export sector. Trade liberalisation does stand to benefit both countries, but not when its essential dynamics are skewed.

Babar Nizami

The writer is Chief Operating Officer, Pakistan Today. He tweets at @bnizami.

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