ISLAMABAD:

Pakistan and Uzbekistan are likely to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) to increase bilateral trade between the two countries.

Uzbekistan’s Ambassador to Pakistan Aybek Arif Usmanov on Friday hinted at the possibility of inking the FTA. “The possibility of signing a free trade agreement between Pakistan and Uzbekistan cannot be ruled out,” he said.

Talking to APP, the envoy said that a preferential trade agreement (PTA) had already been signed for the promotion of bilateral trade, which had great potential to deepen trade ties in the future.

He pointed out that a transit trade deal had also been inked by the two countries, which facilitated the movement of goods via land route between the two countries including through trucks.

The ambassador emphasised that the FTA between Pakistan and Uzbekistan could play a better role in promoting bilateral trade if there could be a similar trilateral agreement between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.

“After such an agreement, economic integration between Central Asia and South Asia will expand and regional trade will get a considerable boost.”

Citing the examples of the European Union and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) for regional connectivity, he stressed “this is the right time to explore regional trade.”

As per Uzbek government’s policy, region-to-region trade will also be promoted, which will bring different countries together in a common sphere of trade and economy.

About laying a railway line between Pakistan and Uzbekistan, the envoy pointed out that the engineers and technical staff of both countries were carrying out work on the project and all the three parties, including Afghanistan, agreed to implement it.

“Afghanistan’s province of Mazar-e-Sharif is already connected to Uzbekistan through a railway line,” he added.

“The railway link between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan will not only link our trade with the countries in the two regions, but will also give them access to the Euro-Asian and European markets.”

Ambassador Usmanov also emphasised that he would like to complete all major gas pipeline projects, including the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline for economic and trade integration.

He underlined the need for completing the Central Asia-South Asia (CASA-1,000) power supply project to meet Pakistan’s energy needs.

Responding to a question, Usmanov said that the foundation of economic relations between Pakistan and Uzbekistan was laid by former prime minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif.

“In the past, bilateral trade stood at only $20 million, which reached $185 million in 2021. PTA will increase the trade further,” he said, adding that now agreements were being signed between the provinces and cities of Pakistan and Uzbekistan for mutual cooperation.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2022.

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