Sunday, 12 February 2012

Eyeing better ties, Indian commerce minister heads to Pakistan

Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma (R) welcomes his Pakistani counterpart, Amin Fahim, during an India-Pakistan Business Conclave in New Delhi on September 29, 2011. PHOTO: AFP/FILE
NEW DELHI: The Indian commerce minister has reiterated his country’s commitment to removing barriers that restrict trade with Pakistan as he prepares to visit Islamabad next week.

Anand Sharma will leave for Lahore on Monday through the overland border post at Wagah to take part in a three-day “India Show” and hold trade talks with his Pakistani counterpart Amin Fahim.

“We want to build bridges of confidence and trust which is imperative to promote two-way trade between the two countries,” Sharma told a press conference in New Delhi on Sunday.

An array of legal and regulatory barriers has restricted official exchanges to $2.7 billion but Sharma said he was hopeful the sum would jump in the coming years.

“We hope to double this figure in a three-year period. Once direct trade through (the) land route is facilitated, there will be a manifold increase,” said Sharma, who will head a 120-strong delegation of business leaders and officials.

Deepening economic engagement between the two countries is seen as crucial to establishing lasting peace in the troubled South Asian region.

In 1996, India granted Pakistan “most preferred nation” status which is intended to remove discriminatory higher pricing and duty tariffs. Pakistan agreed in principle to grant a similar status to India last year, paving the way for a radical reorganisation of trade.

At present, Pakistan maintains a list of 1,945 items allowed to run from India to Pakistan but only 108 can be trafficked directly by road through Wagah.

Major items of export from India to Pakistan are sugar, cotton, man-made filaments and chemicals, while its top imports from Pakistan include fruit, mineral fuels, and organic chemicals.

Sharma said Pakistan had shown the willingness to move “towards a regime which deepens and diversifies our trade”, and India, on its part, was working towards visa reforms.


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