In what looks like a game-changer in ties between India and Pakistan, the two countries on Thursday vowed to take their $2-billion bilateral trade to the next level.
In the commerce secretary-level talks held in Islamabad, the two sides agreed to remove trade barriers and ensure easier movement of goods between the two countries, while deciding to explore signing of a preferential trade agreement.
A six-page joint statement issued on Thursday listed 19 areas for boosting trade. The two decided to “build confidence, dispel misunderstandings and allay misapprehensions,” said the statement, issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
Pakistan would grant the most-favoured nation (MFN) status to India. Removal of some products from the negative list would be a part of this, though not many details were given in this regard. India has given the MFN status to Pakistan, but not on all products.
The statement was issued at the end of the 5th round of talks on commercial and economic cooperation held in Islamabad on April 27-28. The Indian delegation was led by Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar, while Pakistan was represented by his counterpart Zafar Mahmood.
The two sides, said the MEA statement, agreed to expand trade in all petroleum products. For this, they decided to set up a group of experts before June 15. The group will meet by September 2011 to identify the problem areas.
“The group will discuss trade arrangements, building of cross-border pipelines and use of road/rail routes, including the Munabao-Khokrapar route,” said the statement.
In a historic move, the two also decided to trade electricity. A committee of experts to look into this would meet in October.
According to the joint communiqué, both also agreed to establish a working group to address issues such as lowering of sector-specific trade barriers. The group would meet by September this year.
The two also decided to expand trade through the Wagah-Attari land route and to open a second gate, besides creating dedicated routes for passenger and freight movement.
|BREAKING TRADE BARRIERS
|* Bilateral trade is around $2 billion
|* There is no formal trade agreement between the two, only a trade arrangement
|* Plan to initiate trade in electricity and petroleum products
|* Plan to sign a preferential trade agreement
|* Creation of a working group. First meeting in September
|* Expansion of the Wagah-Attari land route
|* Dedicated corridors for passengers and freight
|* Faster clearance of cargo on the Wagah-Attari border
|* Movement of large containers and trucks
|* To explore trade in Bt cotton
Khullar assured his Pakistani counterpart that the new Integrated Check Post at Wagah would be fully functional by October. The two also pledged to increase trading hours on the Wagah-Attari border, facilitate faster movement of cargo and allow movement of large container trucks.
The two sides also decided to relax the process of granting business visas.
Both would also seek to initiate trade in Bt cotton seeds to help Pakistan’s farmers and textile industry.
The last round of bilateral trade talks was held in August 2007. The relations between the two were strained after the terror attack on Mumbai in November 2008.
However, the recent visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani for the cricket world cup semi-final between India and Pakistan has improved the ties to an extent.