Traders eye more cross-border trade via Attari

'Cap of 137 items on export by road via the check-post needs to lifted'

With India and Pakistan ushering in a liberalised visa regime, traders in Punjab are upbeat about a surge in cross-border trade through the road route via the Attari border.

Anticipation of a quantum jump in trade comes just months after both countries launched the much-awaited Integrated Check Post (ICP) at the border, with dedicated passenger and cargo terminals and improved customs and immigration facilities. Traders, however, said the cap of 137 items on export through road via Attari needs to lifted. Cost of transporting goods by road is one-third of the expenses for transporting goods to Pakistan by sea. The sea route is open for most of the 6,000 items being traded between the two countries.

Rajdeep Uppal, president of the Amritsar Exporters Chamber of Commerce said: “Most of the export items go to Pakistan by the sea route where restriction does not apply. Pakistan allows India to export just 137 items via land route. It’s a limiting factor,” he said. As per estimates, in 2007, annual trade between India and Pakistan through road was worth Rs 6.5 billion only. By 2010-11, the figure rose to Rs 15 billion.

Trade with Pakistan through road via the Attari border has undergone significant changes in the last few years. Until a few years ago, trucks weren’t allowed anywhere near the border posts. Porters from both nations carried heavy export-import stocks on their backs to the other side. After trade regulations were eased, especially after the integrated check post became operational, around 500 trucks cross the border everyday, as against the earlier traffic of about 150 trucks.

India exports several items by road including vegetables, frozen meat, soybean products and cotton yarn and imports dry fruit and cement from Pakistan. Both countries import and export chemicals.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said relaxation in norms will boost trade and social ties. “I personally advocate a free trade regime between the two countries.

“The government should also consider opening other trade routes from Fazilka and Ferozepur,” he said, adding that Punjab could become a gateway to central Asian countries and such trade links will change the economic profile of the entire state.

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