The most significant impact of the COVID-19 for road and rail transport in Pakistan was on border-crossing time as trade facilitation indicator (TFI) averaged 55.7 hours, far above the 28.3 hours in 2019, states the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
The bank, in its report, “CAREC Corridor Performance Measurement and Monitoring Annual Report 2020, the Coronavirus Disease and its Impact,” has recommended for concluding Afghanistan–Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement negotiation to resolve the remaining issues on transit trade — a cornerstone for other transit trade that could attract other CAREC members.
Border-crossing fees and total transport costs saw little change. From 2019 to 2020, the former changed from $283 to $280, while the latter stayed at $704. Speed without delay (SWOD) changed from 10.6 km/h in 2019 to 8.0 km/h in 2020, and speed with delay (SWD) changed from 28.2 km/h to 28.1 km/h.
Torkham and Chaman continued to remain time-consuming border crossing points (BCPs), worsened by the pandemic.
The average time to cross the border at Torkham increased from 60.1 hours in 2019 to 70.7 hours in 2020, whereas, in Chaman, the time increased from 35.7 hours in 2019 to 50.0 hours in 2020.
Pakistan continued intensive efforts to increase transit and trade efficiency, adopting modern trade facilitation measures. Work on a national single window and authorized economic operators continued. The customs management system called WeBoc was upgraded to perform multimodal transit to effect TIR operations.
The National Logistics Policy was sent to the federal cabinet for review at the beginning of 2021. When the COVID-19 began to raise alarms worldwide, the government ordered a moratorium on all cross-border activities beginning early March 2020, resulting in a stoppage of all border activities at Torkham and Chaman BCPs.
This resulted in a large number of containers bound for Afghanistan being stuck at the seaport, inland customs offices, and the two BCPs. By 14 March 2020, Pakistan Customs reported that 1,587 containers and 526 containers remained in Quetta and Peshawar, respectively, after they were released from the Karachi seaport. By 22 April 2020, it was estimated that in Karachi, at least 6,000 TEUs got stranded in the seaport bound for Afghanistan.
The average border-crossing time in Q2 2020 for Pakistan surged to 81 hours on average, which was double that of Q2 2019 and Q1 2020. This was driven by the increased border-crossing time at Torkham and Chaman in Q2 2020.
Throughout 2020, the border-crossings remained challenging due to the additional sanitary controls and health checks, on top of the existing time-consuming procedures.
The Bank gave several recommendations including,
1. Approve the National Freight Logistics Policy (NFLP)
The NFLP consists of 10 objectives, 13 policy actions, and 125 specific recommendations. The endorsement of the policy by the Cabinet will resolve many long-standing issues that constrain the freight and logistics sector, such as port congestion, underdeveloped multimodal transport, and high cost of transportation. Yet as of Q1 2021, the Cabinet has not formally endorsed the policy since it was completed in March 2020.
2. Enhance traffic control via “smart parks and tags.”
Pakistan authorities have taken action to terminate illegal private parking lots near the border and implemented radio frequency identification (RFID)-enabled tags to coordinate movements of vehicles so that border-crossing at major BCPs such as Torkham could be more efficient. Strong actions are needed as the shortage of tags during COVID-19 resulted in additional delays. Private operators of parking spaces could be encouraged under public-private partnership so that the vehicles do indeed move in a coordinated and organized manner, using smart technologies such as RFID.
3. Promote Ghulam Khan as an international border-crossing point
Torkham is consistently one of the most time-consuming BCP due to high traffic, and presently the situation is aggravated by the ongoing construction works under the CAREC Regional Improvement of Border Services (RIBS) project. Pakistan has already designated Ghulam Khan as the third international BCP, a laudable move that needs to be supported with infrastructure upgrades and installment of equipment and trained personnel. This would attract traffic and relieve the congestion at Torkham.
4. Incentivize freight trains from Karachi to Peshawar
Currently, all Afghan transit trade is transported on trucks. New freight train services were launched in 2019, from Karachi to Lahore. If the freight train service could extend to Peshawar as the terminus, this would allow a cost-effective solution to facilitate transit trade and reduce shipment costs, which are now high due to the sole reliance on trucking.
Pakistan exports tropical fruits to Tajikistan, with Afghanistan serving as a transit country. Due to security conditions within Afghanistan and the ongoing negotiation to conclude the stalled Afghanistan–Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) 2010, multiple changes of trucks are required.
The Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India pipeline was progressing, although it was hampered by security concerns over Taliban-held areas in the north-western region of the country. This project would balance the supply of energy from surplus in Turkmenistan to deficit areas in India and Pakistan.
The report further noted that the country participates in the continuous dialogue on the Afghanistan–Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) 2010, a bilateral agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which resumed negotiations in 2019.
The latest discussions also included the exploration of setting up border markets, an invitation to Afghanistan to participate in the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as well anti-corruption measures along the transit routes.
On a positive note, neighboring countries, Pakistan and Uzbekistan have discussed actively with Afghanistan on a railway linking Mazar-i-Sharif to Peshawar, creating a railway corridor along with the three countries, it added.
Source: Pro Pakistani