India, Pakistan agree to ease trade, visa norms

 India and Pakistan Wednesday signed three deals and agreed to normalise visa regimes and move from ''positive list'' to a short ''negative list'' trade regime by the end of this month, a major step forward to ease trade norms and facilitate movements of people.

According to a joint statement released after the bilateral meeting of the commerce ministers, the two countries have agreed to move from a “positive list” to a “small negative list” by end of February 2012.

“The negative list is to be phased out, the timing for this will be announced in February 2012 at the time the list is notified. It is expected that the phasing out will be completed before the end of 2012,” the statement said.

Talking to media persons after the meeting, Pakistan Commerce Minister Makhdoom Mohammad Amin Fahim said a short negative list of goods that Pakistan does not want to import from India would be finalised by the end of this month.

“The two commerce secretaries are discussing positive and negative lists. By the end of this month we will have a negative list. I don’t think there will be any further problems,” Fahim said.

Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, who is leading the largest ever business delegation to Pakistan, said the two countries have taken major step forward to boost trade.

Pakistan maintains a “positive list” of 1,945 items which are allowed to be imported from India.

Pakistan’s commerce ministry has proposed India-specific negative list of 636 items. The issue was discussed in the Pakistan’s cabinet Tuesday. However, the list was not finalised because of differences among the several stakeholders.

To liberalise the visa norms, Sharma said the two countries have set up a joint working group, comprising the officials of home, commerce and external affairs ministeries.

“They will meet next month to discuss the issues further. The idea is to facilitate greater movement of people, especially businesspersons,” he said.

Sharma said Indian government has identified two industry chambers the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) and the Confederation of Indian Industry to facilitate the business visa processing. “We have also asked Pakistan to identify two chambers.”

The two countries are also working on modalities to open bank branches on a reciprocal basis.

“On the issue of opening of bank branches of both countries it was informed that both central banks are scheduled for meeting in Mumbai in first fortnight of March,” the joint statement said.

The first meeting of expert group on trade in petroleum products will also be held in March in New Delhi.

Three important agreements were signed Wednesday in presence of the commerce ministers of the two countries.

A deal called customs cooperation agreement was signed to help avoid arbitrary stoppage of goods at each other’s ports.

A bilateral cooperation agreement on mutual recognition between Pakistan Standard and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) and Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and agreement on redressal of trade grievances between Pakistan and India were also signed.

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