Much ado about nothing.

After 18 years of deliberations and nineteen rounds of negotiations, Pakistan recently signed a preferential trade agreement with Turkey. Both sides have expressed optimism that with increased market access, bilateral trade will rise to $5 billion in the medium term from the current trade volume of fewer than one billion dollars.

However, with the low ambition of the agreement, much will likely stay the same. Pakistan has offered market access on 130 tariff lines, whereas Turkey has offered concessions on 261. These account for less than 2 per cent of each country's tariff lines. Both countries are not opening up any notable sector of export interest for the other side.

The difference could not be starker if we compare our free trade agreement (FTA) with Turkey to what Turkey signed with Malaysia. In the case of the Malaysia-Turkey FTA, immediately upon entering into force, 70pc of the tariff lines of both parties gained duty-free access.

At the end of the transition period of three to eight years, over 90pc of trade would become exempt from duty. Only selected sensitive agricultural products were excluded from the full liberalisation.

Pakistan wants to keep its protectionist policies intact but also be seen as moving towards global integration through trade agreements

It is not just with Turkey but even the old preferential trade agreements (eg, with Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Mauritius) that Pakistan entered into more than a decade ago, and the coverage of trade flows has yet to reach even 5pc. The only exception is with China, but after 15 years of the agreement, the range of trade flows under the FTA is 27pc for Pakistan's imports and 8pc for its exports, according to World Trade Organisation (WTO) data.

Generally, free trade agreements are negotiated under the WTO rules, which require that duties and other restrictions be reduced on 'substantially all trade,' which is taken as over 90pc of existing trade. The bilateral or regional free trade agreements that Pakistan has with different countries can, at best, be considered interim agreements but with no time frame for further liberalisation.

Why can't Pakistan have a proper bilateral or regional trade agreement like most other countries? There may be many reasons, but the most obvious is that Pakistan wants to keep its protectionist policies intact. Still, at the same time, it wants to be seen as moving towards regional or global integration.

In other words, it is chasing two...

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