Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's just concluded visit to Pakistan has diplomatic significance. However, the notable aspect of the visit is the likely initiatives it may create in expanding economic relations between the two countries. The joint economic commission of Pakistan and Bangladesh met earlier to discuss a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries and it was decided between the two governments during the visit of the Bangladeshi Prime Minister that a bilateral FTA would be signed by September 30 next. The time-bound declaration is a positive one. All concerned would express the hope that once the FTA is approved and operationalised, bilateral trade between the two countries could jump to $1.0 billion by the end of 2007. If this happens, and a large part of the benefits from the bilateral expansion in trade from FTA is likely to go to Bangladesh, then the deal will prove to be a truly productive one.
Presently, the two-way trade is very small compared to the much bigger prospects of the FTA for both countries. The apex chamber bodies of the two countries have also signed an understanding and under the terms of it, they can be expected to hold regular meetings and all other forms of continuous contacts with a view to making the most of the FTA between the two countries as well as collaboration in joint venture projects. The Bangladesh Prime Minister has drawn attention to Pakistani businesses and investors about the considerable opportunities which are there for them to set up joint venture enterprises in Bangladesh with their Bangladeshi associates. The joint ventures can reap the benefits of zero tariff facilities that goods from Bangladesh presently enjoy in entering some developed countries. Specially, such joint venture projects can be mutually beneficial in the textiles sector.
Four memorandums of understandings (MOUs) were signed between Pakistan and Bangladesh during the visit and all of them relate to economic development. Pakistan's Agricultural Research Council signed the MOU with its Bangladeshi counterpart. The MOU seeks to exchange technical training and technology transfer. This can be particularly useful for Bangladesh in developing its export-oriented agricultural sector that needs to learn many things in the areas of growing crops for export markets, their preservation and quality control. Pakistan has a long lead in this area and it appears that Bangladeshis can learn from them to gain in their export endeavours. The other MOU that was signed for cooperation in the field of standardisation and quality control will also likely be of value to Bangladesh in upgrading its export capacities specially in the thrust area of export of non-traditional agricultural products. The third MOU is on export promotion and both countries can come together to render each other assistance in different ways to bolster their export trade. The other MOU on tourism can lead to Pakistani investments in the tourism sector of Bangladesh and also generate benefits for the latter in the form of Pakistani expertise in building up its tourism sector. Pakistan, at the moment, has a large tourism industry and considerable experience in the field.
Thus, the trip to Pakistan by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia can be regarded as a contributory one in the sense that it has opened up the possibilities of a new horizon of economic relations with that country. However, both governments will need to engage in quick follow-up talks and keep them going to realise the potentials for expanding economic relations that have been created by the visit.