India, Pak agrees to boost trade, take it to $6 bn

India, Pak agrees to boost trade, take it to $6 bn
New Delhi: India and Pakistan Wednesday agreed to "normalise" their economic relations, setting an ambitious target of more than doubling bilateral trade to USD six billion within three years.
     
Pakistan has also agreed to implement all the obligations under the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) Agreement-meeting long pending demnd from India.
     
The two nations, with commercial engagement of only USD 2.7 billion, "agreed to jointly work to more than double bilateral trade within three years ...to USD six billion," a joint statement said after a meeting between Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and Pakistan Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim here.
     
"The ministers affirmed that fully normalised commercial link... would strengthen the bilateral relationship and build the bridges of friendship, trust and understanding for mutual benefit of their people and promotion of prosperity in South Asia," it said.
     
Fahim, who is accompanied by a 50-member business delegation, is the first Pakistan Commerce Minister to visit India after more than 35 years. Before coming here, he met Indian businessmen in Mumbai in the last two days.
     
For normalising the business ties,the ministers "agreed that all mutual obligations contracted under SAFTA would be implemented with full sincerity".
     
On India's demand for the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status by Pakistan, Fahim said, "things are moving forward according to plan. We are looking forward to achieve the target".
     
The Pakistan side said that it will allow imports from India on all but few items (in negative list). Petroleum imports would also be allowed, it said.

As a goodwill gesture, New Delhi will support Islamabad in WTO for European Union proposal to extend duty benefits to Pakistani textiles, a concession given by EU on account of floods in Pakistan.
     
"India will be constructive and supportive as and when the WTO takes up this matter," Sharma said.
     
On Pakistani demand for allowing cross-border investments, he said India would take an early decision.
     
"It is engaging our active and constructive attention at the highest level and you can expect an early decision," Sharma said.
     
Doubling of bilateral trade would also be facilitated through an MoU signed between the India Trade Promotion Organisation and the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan.
     
The ministers also directed their Commerce Secretaries to prepare roadmaps for greater preferential trading arrangements between the countries.
     
"They agreed to further promote greater intra-regional connectivity through road, rail, shipping and air," the statement said.
     
They expected that the visa regime for businessmen would be liberalised before November, when Commerce Secretaries of the two countries meet again. They had earlier met in Islamabad on April 27-28 this year.
     
The ministers expressed hope that the new business visa regime would allow multiple entry and could be for upto one year. "They emphasised that a more secure regional environment would progressively help the visa arrangements for business persons," it said.
     
There was an agreement that bilateral trade liberalisation process should be uninterruptible and irreversible, it added.

Sharma also said BT cotton trade will be given a greater thrust and a committee will facilitate the requisite testing for pest.
 
The minister said that industry bodies CII and Ficci have been advised to take business delegation to Pakistan to work closely with the businessmen of both the countries.
    
He also said India is spending Rs 150 crore to strengthen the infrastructure at the Attari-Wagah border.
    
"The second gate will be constructed and will be ready for opening by end October or early November. The trading hours will be extended from 7 am to 7 pm in summers and 7 am to 5 pm in winters," he said.
    
Both the governments have also agreed for closer cooperation between the customs officials to ensure faster clearances of consignments.
    
Sharma has also accepted Pakistan's invitation to visit Islamabad with an official and business delegation.
    
"Dates will be finalised soon," he said.

PTI