Grilling the wrong chicken | Pakistan Today

Grilling the wrong chicken

Hunger, they say, forces you into taking aberrant actions; and the degree of abnormality of these acts is of course directly proportional to the swelling appetite. Hence, when our industrial magnates prepared their metal rods, charcoal briquettes and spices to ‘grill’ the visiting Indian commerce minister, Anand Sharma, this week, what they were actually doing was fanning the embers of potential trade starvation, caused by our commerce minister’s hasty decision making. It was like vying to steam-cook the neighbour’s fowl, because you knew that your own chicken was tasteless and unsavoury anyway. And just as one had feared, the hen from the neighbourhood nonchalantly parried away probing advances, and simply refused to be intimidated by any array of rods or flames that we conjured up.
Sharma was bombarded with a blitzkrieg of queries regarding the non-tariff barriers; for example, Indian labeling requirements, lack of visas for our textile traders – despite importing cotton worth $16m – and restriction on cement imports. And the minister meticulously handled the onslaught promising reevaluation of NTBs to cement, textile and agriculture sectors, revising the visa rule and with his Pakistani counterpart signed three initial trade related agreements – customs cooperation agreement, a grievance redressing mechanism and one for mutual quality certification recognition. Our industrialists’ scepticism is understandable, for, without New Delhi’s provision of transparent access to our raw materials and lifting the NTBs the trade graph would continue to be skewed towards the Indians. Their discontent, however, is a corollary of our commerce ministry’s imprudence more than the Indian prejudice, and therefore it is evident that we have been grilling the wrong chicken. Hoping for Sharma to safeguard the interests of Pakistani industries smacks of a 3D marination of delusion, doubt and desperation; and this is where our tasteless chicken springs into the kitchen. Makhdoom Amin Fahim was under the cosh in a recent cabinet meeting over the ‘unnecessary haste’ in trying to convert Indian trade items from the negative to the positive list, without taking the interior ministry, textile ministry and other stakeholders on board. And this is precisely what perturbs the industrialists the most.
Amin Fahim promised the Indian commerce contingent of completely removing the negative list by the end of the year and sent a summary to the cabinet of gradually phasing out the list in three quarters, ending on June 30, September 30 and December 31 respectively. Now unless the commerce minister has somehow dug out Aladdin’s lamp from an Arabian cave, with a genie to grant the industrialists three wishes – one each for the three aforementioned quarters – it is hard to perceive Pakistani industry miraculously becoming so competitive as to give the Indian market a run for its money so quickly. This move would give them no time to establish the needed infrastructure to compete with Indian goods, when they eventually start flooding in after the negative list removal and the MFN grant. It is appalling to note that our commerce minister did not even consult his own colleagues, let alone other stakeholders, before deciding upon our trading future, and hence, the federal cabinet justly deferred the matter.
Such a rushed decision could have catastrophic consequences as the balance of trade, which is already heavily inclined towards India – out of $1,053m worth of bilateral trade last year, our imports were worth $860m, with a meager $193m (18.33 per cent) being exports – would precipitously tilt further, which in turn would quash our industrialists, potentially aggravating the long-term economic growth of the country. The prudent approach would have been to discuss a bigger timeframe and transform the negative list in synchrony with India’s relaxation of NTBs. However, with the ministry seemingly taking shortcuts, their loyalty towards the national cause and the protection of local industry undoubtedly comes under scrutiny. And therefore, while barbecuing Anand Sharma was an instinctive reaction from our industrialists, it is his Pakistani counterpart who should be earmarked as the tandoori tikka. And while we are on that ‘tikka’ is the Finnish word for ‘woodpeckers’ that are often said to be ‘highly self-seeking species that are aggressive to other members of their species.’ Suddenly everything fits into the picture perfectly.

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