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Foreign ministries blamed for impasse on trade talks

Foreign ministries blamed for impasse on trade talks

LAHORE: Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir has blamed the foreign ministries of Pakistan and India for the current stalemate in bilateral trade talks as the foreign ministries have refused to resume composite dialogue.

However, Dastgir has shown optimism that talks would resume soon and Pakistan would be able to deliver on the promise of removing all bans on Indian exports and open up the land route through Wagah further.

“When you are talking trade, you can go to a certain extent and then trade talks hit a wall when other ministries get involved,” the minister said while talking to media persons at the ‘India Show’ organised jointly by the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and several Pakistani institutions.

Dastgir said it were the foreign ministries which refused to resume the composite dialogue for improving relations between the two countries. The composite dialogue was suspended last January following violence at the Line of Control.

The Indian commerce ministry had written to the Pakistani government demanding that the country should specify by when it planned to offer it non-discriminatory market access before talks could proceed further. It also said a timeline should be given for allowing trade of all goods through the Wagah border. The commerce ministry faced pressure from the foreign ministry which argued that there was no point in talking on trade till Pakistan delivers on the promises that it has made. Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma had to cancel his visit to Lahore to inaugurate the ‘India Show’ as the foreign ministry was not keen on it.

India and Pakistan started negotiations for liberalising bilateral trade in February 2012 following which both sides took a number of steps to open up their markets. Pakistan, which allowed only about 2,000 items to be imported from India, now allows more than 6,000 goods from the country. An import ban, however, continues on about 1,000 items, which it had promised to dismantle by December last year.

Pakistan also needs to deliver on its promise for allowing Indian goods through the land route. At present, most items from India have to be exported along the sea-route via Mumbai and Karachi, which is very expensive.

Dastgir also stressed on the need for a more liberal visa regime to boost trade. “We may keep talking about tariff and customs barriers, but until business people are allowed to travel freely to each other’s countries, they would not be able to see for themselves what opportunities they can exploit,” the minister said.

Bilateral trade between India and Pakistan is pegged at about $ 3 billion with Pakistan exporting less than $ 1 billion. Commerce Joint Secretary Arvind Mehta, however, said Pakistan’s exports to India had doubled in the last three years which promises better future.