Pakistan talks pax with India, but Sharma skips Lahore event

15 Feb 2014


Furthering the Pakistan government's friendly overtures to India, the country's commerce minister Khurram Dastgir Khan on Friday expressed confidence that the issue of granting non-discriminatory market access (NDMA) – equivalent to 'most favoured nation' status - would be resolved soon.

Speaking on the sidelines of the 'India Show' in Lahore to promote Indian products in the country, he said it was not anti-India sentiment but the people's ''collective wisdom'' and desire to give peace a chance that brought Nawaz Sharif back in power in 2013.

India, however, seems to have not quite reciprocated. Commerce minister Anand Sharma was scheduled to be present at the inauguration of the India Show, but cancelled his visit at the last moment on the ground that Pakistan had not responded to New Delhi's letter on expeditious implementation of its concerns, including NDMA.

Khan further called for liberalisation of the visa regime to take the friendly sentiments forward and enable people from both sides to explore various aspects of the relationship.

"The truth is that visa restrictions are the biggest non-tariff barriers. People and businessmen are not able to travel to each other's countries. That is the great barrier to trade.

"Trade cannot happen in vacuum ... trade cannot solve all the problems ... the fact is that the composite dialogue is suspended as of today instead of the two foreign ministers calling each other their valentine," said the minister quipped as he invoked the Valentine's Day spirit.

Speaking of the potential of the bilateral trade to nudge the peace process with India forward, Dastgir said it was unfortunate that efforts of commerce ministries from both sides could not get results due to differences in other spheres.

"What we are really hoping is that the trade dialogue can go forward in an atmosphere in which our larger dialogue is resumed and we are able to discuss these issues. There are no preconditions on trade talks," he said.

Asked about granting NDMA to India, he said, "I have great confidence. We will be able to resolve it soon." He didn't give any timeline.

India's issues, which prevented Sharma's visit include allowing trade of all goods through Wagah-Attari border, pruning the 'negative list' of 1,209 items that cannot be imported from India, and bringing down the sensitive list of items to 100, under the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) over a period of five years.

At present, only 137 items can be traded through Attari-Wagah land border. Pakistan had already missed the deadline to eliminate the negative list. Dismantling of the list would automatically lead to grant of NDMA to India, though India for long has insisted on Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status as a reciprocal measure.

Asked about Pakistan's non-response, Dastgir said, "We are going after a much larger aim ... we are working on it and we are hoping to make good progress in the coming days." He did not elaborate.

The India Show is being organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) along with the ministry of commerce and industry and the Trade Development Authority of India (TDAP). On the Pakistan side, the sponsors of the event aimed at showcasing the "best of India in the 21st century" are the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) and the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI).

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