KARACHI: Pakistan will resume the stalled trade talks with India with an "open mind" and hopes to develop an institutional framework to enable the two South Asian nations to exploit their vast potential of bilateral trade, a senior government official said on Monday.
Some key items on the agenda of secretary-level talks, scheduled for April 27-28 in Islamabad, include banking sector cooperation, mechanism for dispute resolution and developing an institutional framework for the promotion of trade ties, said Zafar Mahmood, secretary commerce.
He was briefing a select group of business leaders including representatives of textile, cement, information technology and automobile sectors about the issues relating to Pakistan-India trade.
Mahmood specially flew to Karachi to meet business leaders and get their input on the issues relating to trade with India ahead of talks with his Indian counterpart Rahul Khullar, who will arrive in Islamabad with a seven-member team. These talks will be held after a gap of more than two years.
Some of the business leaders, who attended the brainstorming meeting with the commerce secretary, are also in the forefront of the civil society-led peace initiative launched jointly by Pakistan's media giant, the Jang Group and the Times of India Group, under the Aman Ki Asha initiative.
Many frontline names of Pakistani and Indian business community have already been lobbying for enhanced trade and economic ties between the two countries under the Aman Ki Asha banner.
Mahmood said that though Pakistan enjoys the most-favoured nation (MFN) status by New Delhi, the non-tariff barriers serve as a major impediment, discouraging Pakistani exports to India.
"Integrity of intent" remains vital to boost trade, which suffered because of the 2008 terrorist strike in Mumbai, he said.
Till 2008, the trade ties between Pakistan and India were on the right track, Mahmood said. "But Mumbai attacks changed all that. Now we have to tread carefully and start the process of talks on a positive note. We are ready to discuss anything under the Sun." he said. "History will not forgive us if we fail to open the trade between the two countries."
The much anticipated secretary-level talks on trade follows similar level discussions between Pakistani Interior Secretary Qamar Zaman Chaudhry and Indian Home Secretary Shri Gopal K. Pillai in New Delhi last month on security issues.
Mahmood said that there remains a perception that Pakistani businesspeople are not being treated fairly in India.
Bureaucratic snags and harsh custom laws not only delay Pakistani exports to India, but sometimes also damages goods, inflicting losses to exporters, he said.
The removal of non-tariff barriers remains the key, he said. "Given the level-playing field, Pakistani goods can compete with Indian as they compete with Chinese goods."
Earlier, representatives of various sectors gave brief presentations to the commerce secretary underlining the huge potential of the trade between the two nations as well as issues blocking its growth.
Yasin Siddik, vice chairman of the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association, said that Pakistan-India trade potential remains 10 times the annual average of $1.65 billion trade flows recorded during the last three years. Trade liberalisation is likely to give Pakistani manufacturers an access to the larger Indian market, he said.
He said India's trade regime remains more restricted than Pakistan in terms of both tariff and non-tariff barriers.
"Prohibitive non-tariff barriers in India have made Pakistan's exports unattractive," he said giving details of discriminatory Pakistan specific rules.
Pakistan has a clearer policy on trade with India as instead of granting it MFN status, it allowed import of over 2000 Indian items, he said.
Samir S. Amir, director research of Pakistan Business Council, said that Pakistan-India trade issues need to be disentangled from broader issues. The two countries should do trade on the same terms as with the rest of the world, he said.
Saifuddin, representing the cement sector, said that the government should ask India to allow cement transportation by road to the Indian side of the border.
"The railway treaty should be rectified so that maximum number of wagons should remain available to transport cement through railway."
Jehan Ara, representing the information technology sector, said the strict visa regime remains a key problem for the information technology experts and businesspeople alike.
Visas should be non-police reporting and non-city specific, she said.
Javed Sheikh, representing the automobile sector, said that Indiaís non tariff barriers remain the key problem. "There are some restrictions on trade that are land specific and applies only on Pakistan," he said. Pakistan automobile parts remain competitive both in price and quality with India, he said.
The other participant of the meeting included Amin Hashwani, a leading businessman and a key member of Aman Ki Asha inititative, Humyaun Bashir, General Manager of IBM Pakistan, Bashir Ali Moahmmed of Gul Ahmed Textile, Nadeem Abdullah of Sapphire Textile, and leading businessman Wajid Jawad.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
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