A forthcoming meeting of top Indian and Pakistani businessmen and women provides a historic opportunity to reinvigorate trade relations
By Imran Maqbool
Top businessmen and women from India and Pakistan are expected to gather in Lahore on May 7-8, 2012 for 'Dividends', the Indo-Pakistan Economic Conference organised by Aman ki Asha (AKA), the peace initiative of the Times of India and the Jang Group of Pakistan launched on Jan 1, 2010.
Over the past two years, Aman ki Asha has been bringing together people from various backgrounds in order to help formulate a private sector policy for sustainable peace and cooperation. These efforts have helped strengthen bilateral linkages various spheres of life, including arts, culture, business and trade. Publicising the outcomes of these meetings has gone a long way towards putting 'peace' into the public discourse and sensitising policy makers about the urgency and viability of improving Indo-Pak relations.
'Dividends' is a follow-up to the First Aman ki Asha Indo-Pak Business Meet, held in New Delhi in May 2010 to discuss ways and means to develop bilateral trade and economic ties. Since then, many business leaders have been participating in ongoing meetings organised by Aman ki Asha in various sectors to take forward these ideas.
The forthcoming conference in Lahore is expected to further this agenda, and push policy makers of both countries to work towards harnessing existing synergies for the benefit of the South Asian region.
The President of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Adi B. Godrej will lead the large Indian contingent, joining some 250 businesspersons and corporate leaders from Pakistan at the conference.
The conference programme includes seven sessions spreading over two days in which experts from both sides will participate in detailed discussions on a policy framework for Indo-Pak trade, prospects of opening up Indian markets for Pakistan, potential benefits of permanent peace, policies for attracting bilateral investment, banking relations, and other key issues.
The conference is expected to lay down a roadmap for enhancing Indo-Pak economic cooperation in order to realise the trade potential. It is also expected to remove any misperceptions that still exist regarding opening of full-fledged trade with India. Some lobbies in Pakistan believe that granting Most-Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India and opening up unrestricted trade will have a negative impact on domestic industries. However, according to experts, full-fledged trade will be beneficial not just for both countries but for the entire region.
Empirical evidence, based on an examination of specific sectors, indicates that India-Pakistan trade is a 'win-win' situation, says Dr Ishrat Husain, Dean of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi, in a research paper titled 'Prospects and Challenge for Increasing India-Pakistan Trade' (Atlantic Council, 2012).
As he notes, India's middle class of approximately 300 million people, with rising purchasing power that matches that of southeastern Europe, far outnumbers Pakistan's entire population, not to mention its middle class of approximately 30 million. "Even a 10 percent share of the Indian middle-class market would double the market size for Pakistani companies and businesses."
Granting MFN status to India will benefit Pakistan, and a free trade agreement will further increase those benefits.
"The potential advantages of trade liberalisation for Pakistan appear to be great," Dr Husain wrote. "Going well beyond the immediate creation of trade flows, dismantling tariff and non-tariff barriers would also boost productivity and economic growth, and promote broader regional cooperation in South Asia in all areas".
'Dividends', the Second Aman ki Asha Indo-Pak Business Meet is expected to facilitate this path.
The writer is an Assistant Editor, The News
Wednesday, May 02, 2012
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