India, Pak to dismantle barriers

India, Pak to dismantle barriers

Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, accompanied by business leaders of more than 100 Indian companies, on Monday walked into Pakistan through the Wagah border, vowing to bring down barriers hampering trade and facilitate economic engagement between the two neighbours that would see bilateral commerce doubling to $6 billion in the next three years.

“All barriers of trade will be dismantled,” Sharma declared at a joint media briefing with his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Mohammad Amin Fahim after entering Pakistani territory through the Attari-Wagah road crossing.

“There is an expressed wish and commitment from both the governments and among us to act and you will see during the course of this visit there will be new bonds of understanding to strengthen the relationship.”

Pakistan’s Commerce Minister Fahim, who received Sharma at the Indo-Pak border, said his government would remove non-tariff barriers.

“We are moving fast and we will reach our targets,” Fahim said. Fahim, however, sounded a discordant note when he refused to set a time-frame for Pakistan to grant the most-favoured nation (MFN) status to India, saying some issues were yet to be resolved.

Asked whether the MFN status was likely by the end of this year, Fahim said: “How can I give you a timeframe, when the things are under discussion.”

The Pakistan cabinet on Nov 2, 2011, had decided in principle to grant MFN status to India. Before leaving for his four-day visit to Pakistan, the Indian commerce minister had hoped that Pakistan would keep its promise of granting the MFN status and a substantial decision was likely to be announced during his visit.

The MFN status could be a step forward in strengthening ties between the two nuclear-armed neighbours whose relations have been marred for decades hostilities by a host of issues, including Kashmir and terrorism. India had accorded the MFN status to Pakistan in 1996 and is treating it on par with other trading partners.
The Indian commerce minister is on a reciprocal visit to Pakistan. His Pakistani counterpart had visited India in September last year.

During that visit, the two ministers had agreed to increase two-way trade to $6 billion in three years from $2.7 billion recorded in 2010-11.

Earlier, addressing mediapersons, Sharma said a dedicated gate at the Attari-Wagah border to facilitate movement of goods between India and Pakistan will open by the end of April this year.  “Works are complete. We are going to see that. I want to assure you that by 30th April, this gate will be ready and then it will be opened for trade.”