Land port authority for cross-border trade
To facilitate cross-border movement of goods, vehicles and passenger traffic with neighbouring countries, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf last week approved in principle the setting up of Pakistan land port authority.
The project is an important initiative for promoting trade through land routes under the proposed three-year strategic trade policy framework developed by the ministry of commerce. However, fears are being expressed that bureaucratic red tape may delay its implementation. The PLPA will formulate policies and also function as a coordinating body for different relevant government agencies.
A bill will be introduced in the next session of the National Assembly for approval. Sources say the authority will be an institutional intervention and will be financed from the allocated funding of existing agencies.
Currently, there is no single agency for coordinated functioning of various government authorities and service providers at international border entry/exit points. This lack of coordination sometimes causes delay in flow of goods and passengers. Also the installation of high-tech
technology is needed at these land ports to check illegal immigration and smuggling of goods.
Pakistan will become third country in South Asia after Bangladesh and India to have designated land port authorities. The Bangladesh Land Port Authority was established in 2002 and declared 16 customs stations as land ports. The Indian Land Port Authority is in operation since March 2012.
India has identified Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar on whose borders integrated check posts (ICPs) will be set up at all exit and entry points to facilitate trade and traffic flows. India has already opened up ICP at Waga border with Pakistan.
The proposed land ports will house regulatory agencies such as customs, immigration, border security, quarantines agencies, anti-narcotics forces etc., apart from having support facilities such as parking, rest rooms, containers yards, warehousing, banking and hotels in a single complex.
In the first phase, it has been proposed to convert all bigger customs stations at the borders into land ports to facilitate trade with India, Iran and Afghanistan. Most of the trade with Afghanistan and Iran is through land routes. The opening of land ports at border will also help addressing security concerns.
Pakistan’s bilateral trade with Afghanistan stood at $2.34 billion and with Iran at $0.290billion in 2011-12. Most of the trade with these two neighboring countries took place through land routes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. In the long run, land ports will also handle flows of goods to Central Asian states as well.
Contrary to this, Pakistan trade with India through land route is limited to a few items. However, the government is considering to allow all tradable items via a land route with India especially Wagha border. Pakistan’s bilateral trade with India at $1.84 billion is far below its potential. Commerce ministry has submitted a summary to the cabinet for approval to allow trade through land route with India.
Pakistan is also looking for possibilities of trading with China in the near future through land route as well. Its bilateral trade with China stood at $8.69 billion in the year 2011-12. So, the establishment of land port by converting the customs station in Gilgit Baltistan into a land port will facilitate trade in future.
The proposed authority will fall under the control of the interior ministry. Chairman of the authority will be head of PLPA. Senior officers from foreign office, FBR, commerce, communication, interior ministry, defence, agriculture and law will be posted in the authority.
The authority will formulate policy for development, management expansion, operation and maintenance of all land ports; engaging operators for receiving, maintaining and dispatching cargoes to land ports; preparing schedule of tariffs, tolls, rates and fees chargeable to the port users etc.