The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity to expedite e-commerce and other electronic business and trade solutions including e-payments and e-contracts.
The corresponding measures to get aligned with these solutions will ensure a safe and enabling business environment in the post-pandemic scenario.
The panelists including experts on trade and economy, said this while sharing their views at the virtual public-private dialogue ‘Expediting Trade Facilitation Reforms for Manufacturing Sector amid Covid19’ organized by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).
Economic Advisor to The Commonwealth Secretariat, Dr. Salamat Ali elaborated on the pertinence of using digital technologies during COVID-19 and said that this shift has become increasingly important as it helps cut the cost and delays faced by traders. The health and safety of customs and border officials should also be a priority and the infrastructure related gaps that lead to delay of consignments, need to be redressed.
Mr. Riaz Ahmed Shaikh, Director General (Trade Facilitation) Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) informed the participants that TDAP is helping the private sector explore new market opportunities and new export destinations amid the pandemic. The online accessibility of the relevant officials is part of this facilitation. He said that a deeper public-private dialogue could play a critical role in ascertaining the right regulatory measures during these difficult times.
Dr. Vaqar Ahmed, Joint Executive Director SDPI, while starting the discussion said that COVID-19 provides us an opportunity to introduce interventions related to e-payments, e-signatures, and e-contracts in the overall trade processing chain. Likewise, greater reliance of traders during the pandemic on internet banking and insurance could cut trade costs, he added.
“More paperless trade can also be made the norm through current and future free trade agreements,” Ahmed said and added that the safety requirements and distances of both people and goods are still not properly understood by the workforce in logistics. Therefore, the protection of confidential information of exporters and importers remains a concern to be addressed.
Secretary-General Pakistan Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce & Industry Ms. Faiza Zubair was of the view that overall border management needs to be improved to promote bilateral and transit trade with Afghanistan.
She suggested that the government should include more feedback from the private sector in future policy measures and the customs authorities of Afghanistan and Pakistan need to work closely to make the best use of new facilities and routes at Gwadar.
Mr. Manzoor Ahmed, Former Ambassador to WTO, opined that the tariffs in Pakistan are still higher as compared to other regions and even after the coronavirus the government has been unable to address the trade barriers within the boundaries of the country. He suggested that there is a need to remove anti-export bias from the tariff structure, reduce various withholding taxes on production and trade and expedite free trade agreements with other partner countries besides building digitalization as part of these FTAs.
Mr. Muneeb Sikander, Economist, and Strategic Planning Expert, while moderating the session, emphasized that a focus on both current and potential exporters is important while framing trade facilitation measures. He particularly highlighted the need to support women-led businesses.
The participants shared their observation that inefficient animal and plant protection departments pose difficulties in meeting the standard requirements of the buyers.