Showcasing gourmet chefs and lawn, Pakistan unveiled a trade fair on Thursday in New Delhi as commercial ties between the traditional foes begin slowly to bloom.
However, long-standing Pakistani frustration about India’s ‘non-tariff barriers’ also surfaced, particularly the achingly slow clearances for goods to be shipped across the border. Liberalising heavily restricted trade and investment flows has become a driver of peace efforts between the neighbours.
Musicians clad in orange turbans and green scarves drummed and danced as Indian and Pakistani trade delegates arrived to open the four-day Lifestyle Exhibition.
“If the enemies of the world war can invest in each other’s countries and trade, it is very much possible for Pakistan and India too,” Sharma told The Express Tribune.
He said that the two countries could use the advantage of having similar traditions and not needing an interpreter to enhance trade.
Pakistani commerce minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim could not attend the inauguration ceremony due to engagements back home, however, his arrival is expected today (Friday).
The minister is expected to formally inaugurate the Atari terminal, a newly built check post, for barter trade between the two countries.
The fair is a similar gesture to the India exhibition held in Lahore earlier this year.
Pakistan has brought more than 650 business people from textile giants to furniture manufacturers to the Indian capital for the trade show as commercial relations improve between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
Among the expected visitors are tycoon Mian Mansha, listed by Forbes magazine as Pakistan’s first billionaire, as well as Pakistani singers and film stars.
“Normal duties in the world are 5 to 10 percent on textiles. In India they are 28 percent. Plus there are non-tariff barriers which are really ridiculous,” said Bashir H. Ali Mohommad, the chairman of Karachi-based textile house Gul Ahmed.
Less than one per cent of India’s merchandise exports are sold to Pakistan, in terms of dollar value, but in September the two sides pledged to double bilateral trade within three years to about $6 billion.
Pakistan expects its neighbour to reciprocate by liberalising its visa regime for Pakistanis, as well as by slashing the bureaucratic red tape that strangles the sale of products from textiles to cement.
“The thing is that Pakistani businessmen are under a very strong impression that they will not get a level playing field in India,” said Pakistan’s Commerce Secretary Zafar Mahmood.
Indian restrictions on the movement of Pakistani nationals mean that, for example, business leaders coming to the Indian capital New Delhi would first need to ask for permission to cross into the neighbouring business hub Gurgaon, he said.
In “such a kind of atmosphere where they have to report to the police station in the evening like a criminal, who can trade?” he said.
The Indian Federation of Chambers of Commerce hosted a dinner in honour of the Pakistani delegation which also facilitated 150 business-to-business meetings.
This week, businesses are also hoping to strike a clutch of deals including one on Indian machinery to extract rice bran oil and another for India to export tea to Pakistan. For years, Kenya has been Pakistan’s main supplier of tea.
Lahore-based company Sefam is keen to roll out its popular brand Bareeze in India. “We want to be here like all other international brands. We are scouting for franchise partners who will help us establish the brand in the Indian market,” Sefam International Business Head Zain Aziz told Indian newspaper Business Line.
There was no option left for other than strengthening trade and economic ties, said Sharma. The two countries are determined to provide a bright future to the upcoming generations through mutual trade and assisting each other in economic growth, added Sharma.
WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM REUTERS
Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2012.