Slow progress

The Indo-Pak trade talks at official and ministerial levels which  were held last week took some more steps to increase trade between the two countries.

Incremental progress has been made every time official talks are held to promote bilateral trade but there is the need to make the pace faster. This time the talks were held after a lapse of more than one year. Some of the decisions which were taken by the commerce ministers and secretaries of both countries  last week could have been taken much earlier. Perhaps trade issues cannot be separated from the political and other problematic issues between the two countries and that is why the movement is slow.

Some decisions taken by the ministers will help to open up more trade avenues and remove some of the obstacles which were holding up progress. The trade facilities at the Wagah border will be kept open full time on all days of the week, multiple entry visas will be issued to businessmen of both sides, reciprocal bank branhces will be opened and containerisation of cargo will receive attention.  These are necessary for an increase in trade volumes. Pakistan has not been able to grant Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India despite many promises and even announcements. It has been replaced with the idea of “non-discriminatory market access.” This can only be seen as a temporary arrangement to facilitate more trade but long-term normalisation and liberalisation of trade should be based on a system that gives  MFN status to each other. India has already done that.

In spite of the slow progress there has been improvement in trade relations. There is now increased interaction between business persons and groups from both countries. Trade delegations from both sides have made mutual visits. A joint business forum of different sectors has met twice in the last one year. Last week’s meeting also decided that technical working groups of different departments involved in trade related matters should meet to effectively implement the decisions taken now. Going forward, the need is to widen the basket of trade in place of  the limited number of items which are being traded across the border now and to create the necessary legal and procedural facilities and infrastructural arrangements for that. Both countries will only gain from that.

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