The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has set up the road for economic and trade integration for all regional countries, including Pakistan. The bloc has been so successful that the total volume of trade amongst ASEAN countries has exceeded $3.3 trillion, alluding to the immense potential that lies within the association for those who make an effort to enhance ties with fellow members. Needless to say, our government must explore all avenues the association provides to bring our trade volume up.

Back in 1993, Pakistan was awarded the status of sectoral dialogue partner of the organisation which has provided us with the perfect platform to engage with the 10 member states. Up until now, we have managed to maintain a trade volume of $11 billion, but this is nowhere near the potential we possess. We have explored countless opportunities with countries like China—with whom our exports cross $2.2 billion— and Afghanistan. Just recently, the federal government decided to grant a six-month reciprocal visa to transporters so that cross-border trade can be encouraged. Similarly, our two-way trade volume with Iran is estimated to have crossed 1 billion, although there is more potential there especially with the latter expressing a desire to invest in the oil and gas, engineering, mining and fertiliser industry in Pakistan.

We have been performing relatively well but we have not reached our full potential when it comes to regional economic activities. ASEAN is not only a link through which geographical proximity can reap benefits for Pakistan but is a way to reach global markets and make links. To neglect several economic emerging through the ASEAN would be detrimental and could potentially alienate us from an economic bloc that contributes almost as much as 30 percent to the world’s GDP. It is vital that the government creates strategies and pursues opportunities that will enhance bilateral and multilateral relations with our neighbours.