As is common knowledge, the Strategic Trade Policy Framework (STPF) 2015-2018 has failed to achieve the $35 billion export target by 2018. Now another trade policy framework covering the period 2018-2023 has been formulated with the target of $61 billion exports by 2023. The new policy is said to revolve around eight key factors: "institutional strengthening, trade promotion and branding, trade facilitation, marketing access and regional connectivity, services strategy, product development, compliance and gender mainstreaming." That is what the last STPF focused on as well. But nothing concrete was achieved.
The last document had said: "STPF 2015-18 has identified four main pillars on the basis of (i) key enablers, (ii) evaluation of STPF 2012-15, (iii) emerging global trade scenario and (iv) extensive consultation with the private sector and other stakeholders. These pillars are as follows: (a) Product sophistication and diversification (research and development, value addition, and branding); (b) market access (enhancing share in existing markets, exploring new markets, trade diplomacy and regionalism); (c) institutional development and strengthening (restructuring, capacity building, and new institutions); and (d) trade facilitation (reducing cost of doing business, standardization, and regulatory measures)." The last STPF had clearly spelled out that improving export competitiveness is one of its targets, whereas improving competitiveness was also one of its key enablers across various factors, including quality infrastructure, labour productivity, access to utilities, and level of technological development. But few of these objectives were achieved.
Needless to say, the new policy must be based on the lessons learned from the failure of the last one. One of the key failures previously was lack of inter-ministerial and inter-governmental working relationship vital to achieve targets of such tall order. In this connection it is important to mention here that several tax reform commissions have advised the government to form working groups between the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) and FBR; MoC and Ministry of Finance; MoC and SMEDA; MoC and SBP and the MoC and provincial governments. These working groups, according to their respective domains, were advised to look at a broad range of affairs, including tariff rationalisation, informal trade, release of refunds and export development funds, capacity building for SME exporters, bank lending and getting the provinces to implement the conventions under GSP+ conditionality.
It is advisable that the new STPF is prepared and implemented in liaison with provincial departments because following the devolution a host of economic functions - such as labour - and sectors now lie with the provinces. The STPF should also set up specific delivery units for each of the spotlight sectors considering Pakistan's consistent failures in public service delivery which is no doubt a complex process requiring coordination of multiple stakeholders. As experts have repeatedly pointed out, it is also time to rethink the mandate of the Ministry of Commerce. As it is, among other things, the MoC manages the administration of state owned insurance companies. Besides, the MoC already has a mandate to "assess and provide actionable intelligence to government entities on both foreign trade and domestic commerce" in addition to MoC's task to look into "how to increase the productivity" in the real sectors.
All said, before releasing the details of the latest STPF, the government should first clearly state what it did or did not achieve from the last policy, together with the reasons. Also, after the completion of the ongoing stakeholder consultations, the government should share the draft with the wider public with a view to correcting any shortcomings in the light of general feedback. It is no use setting lofty targets without creating an enabling environment for the same.