Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar Sunday said Pakistan was facing a trade deficit of $9 billion at present, which will come down with the economic zones being set up under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) becoming operational. The economic zones will help increase exports which will in turn decrease the trade deficit, he said while talking to media persons here at the Press Information Department regional office. The minister said 19 per cent reduction in the trade deficit was recorded last month because the volume of exports had jacked up and that of the imports reduced.He said China and Pakistan would also start working jointly on the agriculture sector in next month. China, he said, will provide $1 billion grant to Pakistan in next three years, while around 100 Chinese investors would soon visit the country to explore investment opportunities in various sectors. Bakhtiar said Pakistan and China had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on industrial cooperation on Dec 20, 2018. The PTI government, he said, has decided to take CPEC into a new phase by widening its scope. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to China was focused on strengthening of Pakistan’s economy, he added.The minister said the government was taking effective measures to reduce the current account deficit, besides prioritising facilitation to the export-oriented industries. He said initially the agriculture sector was not included in CPEC. However, the incumbent government convinced China to also extend its cooperation in this vital sector. China, he said, had a share of $7 billion in the global trade of agriculture and livestock, and $3 billion in fisheries, but Pakistan had none in the two sectors. China will also cooperate with Pakistan in processing of fruits and vegetables, he added. Bakhtiar said the government was paying special attention to the skill development and promotion of education, health and irrigation in the least developed areas of the country. Pakistan, with the cooperation of China, was working on elimination of poverty as latter had pulled its 700 million people out of poverty. A pilot project on the Chinese pattern would be initiated which will help reduce poverty substantially, he hoped.To a question, he said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have shown keen interest in the establishment of an oil city in Gwadar. The government was also considering development of the western corridor and in this regard, Quetta and Zhob cities of Balochistan are being linked through an international-standard road, he added. To another question, he said the work on railway track (ML-1) between Peshawar and Karachi will be initiated soon, adding that the development projects are being completed on BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) basis.On the directives of prime minister, he said the CPEC projects are being executed on a fast-track basis to ensure economic development of the country. He said the Business Advisory Council was being set up. Industry would have proper representation in the council, he added. To a query, he said Balochistan had great importance and the federal government was in contact with the provincial chief minister with regard to its development. To another query, he said the South Punjab Secretariat would become functional by June 30.Published in Daily Times, January 21st 2019.