Pakistan High Commissioner Salman Bashir on Thursday said that improving trade and investment relations with India was the topmost priority for his country.
Bashir said Pakistan was “committed” to normalising two-way bilateral trade with India, which would also help in bringing prosperity to the region. He said Pakistan would do all it could to remove hurdles which were hampering this process from taking off successfully.
“The vision for this cooperation in trade between the two countries needs to have some degree of pragmatism built into it. Let us not create much of an argument on the merits of normalising the trading relationship. An improved trading relationship with India remains a priority for our foreign policy,” Bashir said while giving a lecture, titled ‘Normalising India-Pakistan Trade,’ organised by ICRIER here on Thursday.
The high commissioner also added that during the September meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif in New York, both sides had vowed to resume the trade dialogue once again. He added that the India-Pakistan joint ministerial group had also been revived.
The dialogue to increase trade flows between India and Pakistan has suffered a major setback after a recent spate of ceasefire violations across the Line of Control.
Two-way trade between India and Pakistan stood at $2.35 billion in 2012-2013, with the target of scaling it up to $6 billion by end of this financial year.
The event also saw participation by former commerce secretaries of India and Pakistan, Rahul Khullar and Zafar Mahmood, who were instrumental in resuming this dialogue in 2011. According to Khullar, now chairman of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, there remains a huge potential in liberalising the trading regime between the two neighbours. He stressed on opening up land routes so that trade across the border could happen smoothly. “There has to be a Preferential Trading Arrangement between the two. This will also help in curbing indirect trade that is happening through Dubai. New nascent sectors will bloom. We have to look at the gains in terms of margins,” stressed Khullar.
According to Mahmood, who is now the chairman of Punjab Public Service Commission, if Pakistan could throw open its markets for China, then it should not be apprehensive of liberalising trade with India. He also suggested the creation of an India-Pakistan-Europe economic corridor through Turkey, similar to the Pakistan-China economic corridor.
“The dialogue process will restart very soon and it will be a composite dialogue. It is necessary to resume the dialogue for prosperity of the region and South Asia at large,” he said.
In February 2012, the Pakistan Cabinet had given in-principle approval to grant the most-favoured nation (MFN) trade status to India, with the promise of officially giving the status by December 2012. But it did not meet the deadline.
It was widely expected that the new Nawaz Sharif government would take major strides in smoothening bilateral trade ties. India had granted MFN status to Pakistan in 1996.
Under World Trade Organization norms, member countries are mandated to give this status to each other on a reciprocal basis.