Opening statement by Finance Minister at 10th Session of Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Economic Commission

Islamabad, November 23, 2015 (PPI-OT):H.E. EKLIL AHMAD HAKIMI, Minister of Finance, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Honourable Members of the Afghan Delegation

Delegates from Pakistan

Assalam Alaikum and Good Morning!

I welcome H.E. EKLIL AHMAD HAKIMI, Finance Minister and Honourable members of the Afghan Delegation to Islamabad for the 10th Session of Pak-Afghanistan Joint Economic Commission. In Pakistan, we cherish our traditional and long standing relations with the brotherly country of Afghanistan.

As part of our vision for a “Peaceful and Prosperous” neighbourhood, Pakistan places great emphasis on stable and cooperative ties with Afghanistan and believes that a peaceful, prosperous and progressive Afghanistan is in our best interest. Brotherly ties are beneficial for both Pakistan and Afghanistan and would serve to enhance peace and security between the two countries.

I may add here that constructive interaction at the top leadership level has given a major thrust to our bilateral relations which must be sustained and further strengthened. I pray that together with your cooperation, Excellency, we open new areas of cooperation and fortify the existing initiatives between our two brotherly countries during this session of the Commission.

It is heartening to note that most of the decisions taken during the last JEC session as well as those taken during the visit of President Dr Ashraf Ghani in November 2014 have been implemented. There are, however, still some decisions that need to be implemented on a faster pace. In order to move forward we have included these unimplemented decisions in the Agenda and they will be now looked into by experts from both sides.

I have observed that the current trade volume between the two countries does not commensurate with the potential of the countries. We shall have to work single-mindedly and with great zeal so that both countries can meet the target (US$ 5 billion till 2017) set during last JEC session in February 2014. I would also recommend early finalization of Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) and we are awaiting a response from your side.

I would also like to draw the attention towards some of the tariff and non tariff issues regarding bilateral as well as Transit Trade between the two countries. In this regard, some issues were raised by the Afghan Finance Minister in February 2015 which were duly replied to by me on 3rd March 2015. Later, on 22nd July 2015, the Afghan Ambassador called on me on the same subject. These issues were taken up by me with our relevant authorities and I am happy to report that reasonable progress has been made towards facilitation of trade. Further details in this regard will be shared with Afghan side during today’s technical session.

We request that the process of activation of Joint Business Council from Afghan side may be expedited and its meeting be held as soon as possible. This will boost confidence of the Pak-Afghan investors in a big way.

It may be appreciated that major boost in bilateral trade is not possible if B2B contacts are not facilitated. For trade facilitation, we are hoping that Afghanistan would consider relaxing the visa issue regime which impedes visits of Pakistani businessmen. In this regard, I would emphasize that the process of issuance of visa to the businessmen may be reciprocated. We are very keen that our businessmen and your businessmen grow their businesses and sustain our relations.

I would also like to apprise the Afghan delegates about updates on some of the projects being funded by Committee on Reconstruction and Rehabilitation of Afghanistan (CRRA). FWO and consultant (NESPAK) have been mobilized at Torkham-Jalalabad additional carriageway site. The tentative completion date of the project is December, 2016.

As regards 200 beds Jinnah Hospital at Kabul, Rs 118.854 million were released to NLC to ensure an early completion of the project. Similarly, the hostel building for 1000 students at Rehman Baba School is nearing completion and will hopefully be operationalised during the first half of next year.

Ministry of National Health Services is coordinating with PIMS and Institute of Kidney Diseases Centre, Peshawar to train 117 trainees for Nishtar Kidney Centre. In this regard, curricula and training material have also been finalized. Further modalities in this regard will be discussed by experts from both countries. I will request the Afghan government to depute doctors/staff and also to provide electricity at the hospital so that its functioning starts at the earliest.

Regarding the project of Chaman to Spinboldak rail link, I will emphasize on relevant authorities of both sides for professional cooperation so that construction of Chaman to Spinboldak section by Pakistani side may synchronize with construction of Kandahar to Spinboldak section by the Afghan side.

It gives me pleasure to announce that under the Scholarship Scheme for Afghan Students, so far a total of 2255 students, against the target of 3000, have been admitted in MBBS, Engineering and other disciplines. Remaining students will be accommodated during FY 2015-16. A batch of 295 students graduated in December 2014 while another 305 Afghan students will complete their studies by December 2015. We hope that these students will become ambassadors of goodwill.

Let me also share with you that, as a goodwill gesture, the Government has settled the dues with PASSCO and the transporters for the supply of 50,000 tons of wheat. Finally, I would like to state that the development projects being discussed are only tangible milestones of cooperation between our two countries. What is even more important is the spirit and commitment to peace and prosperity that we have for each other.

I once again warmly welcome you and your delegation to Pakistan. I look forward to cordial and pragmatic discussion by the experts of the two countries. I am sure those discussions and decisions will meet the objectives of deepening our bilateral relationship. I wish the delegates a comfortable, productive and enjoyable visit of Pakistan.

Thank you.

Pak-Afghan friendship Zindabad

Pakistan Paindabad

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