Pakistan is facing unprecedented challenges in conducting business activities with Sri Lanka, said Sri Lankan Trade Minister Dr Bandula Gunawardana.

Chairing a business-tobusiness (B2B) meeting on Thursday, the trade minister said that the country needed an urgent economic strategy.

Citing data, he pointed out that total exports from Sri Lanka to Pakistan in 2020 were reported to be $74 million.

“Cooperation between the two countries needs to be strengthened further for mutual benefit,” the minister highlighted.

Pakistan-Sri Lanka Business Forum President Aslam Pakhali said that the two nations must focus on how to strengthen bilateral trade.

He urged the government of Pakistan to facilitate Sri Lanka in reaching the Afghan market and requested meeting participants to visit the neighbouring country as well.

He extended all-out support to facilitate the marketing and identification of Sri Lankan products for the Afghan market.

Speaking on the occasion, Sri Lankan Ambassador Dr Saj Mendis promised to provide incentives and favourable conditions to support bilateral business activities.

He termed the meeting beginning of a new era for Pakistan and Sri Lanka’s bilateral economic and commercial relations and said that it would be followed by concrete actions.

Former Employers Federation of Pakistan president Majyd Aziz stated that the local industry required a higher number of professionals from Sri Lanka.

However, he lamented that the annual bilateral trade between the two countries was quite low, hence it did not reflect the true potential of both countries.

“I do not believe in memoranda of understanding, I believe in agreements,” he said.

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Shahid Younis, an importer of coconut from Sri Lanka, said that the trade balance with Sri Lanka was in Pakistan’s favour as Islamabad imported goods and services amounting to around $75 million while it exported merchandise worth $300 million.

Visit to KCCI

Separately, during a visit to the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sri Lankan Minister of Trade Dr Bandula Gunawardana stated that Pakistan and Sri Lanka were yet to tap the actual potential of bilateral trade under the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

He stated that the FTA had moderately improved the bilateral trade volume.

Despite the lethal impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on all businesses in 2020, Sri Lanka’s total exports to Pakistan reached $74 million out of which $53 million, or 73%, took place under the FTA.

Pakistan Businesses Forum President Mian Usman Zulfiqar told The Express Tribune that the terms of Pakistan-Sri Lanka FTA were favourable as both countries had healthy markets for each other’s exports.

“A number of issues are standing in the way of smooth trade relations and the biggest one is the inability of both sides to establish connections between their respective business communities and policymakers,” he said.

Other issues include unilateral amendments to FTA terms that disrupt trade, lack of investment by government bodies in single country exhibitions and no exchange of regular trade delegations.

If the existing strong political will continued to prevail on both sides, bilateral trade would grow and strengthen in the coming years, he said.

Pakistan and Sri Lanka are capable of becoming major trade partners as countless trade-friendly factors are already in place.

“Therefore, efforts must be made to resolve existing issues in order to lift bilateral trade to its actual potential,” he said.