ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and India are discussing a proposal that seeks to restore direct flights between Islamabad and New Delhi, in a latest move indicating improved relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
The idea was discussed during the first day of two-day talks, held on Thursday at the commerce secretary level. Both sides were also exploring the possibility of launching container service between Lahore-Amritsar and Lahore-Ludhiana aimed at facilitating fast-track goods’ movement across the borders.
The negotiations are part of the peace process, which has picked up momentum in recent months. The latest trade talks seek to iron out the remaining outstanding issues, which may delay phasing out of negative-list containing 1,209 non-importable items from India.
Pakistan has in principle decided to abolish the list by end of this year but seeks greater access to Indian markets for providing level-playing field to its exporters.
Head of the Indian delegation, Commerce Secretary S R Rao, also stressed the “need to focus on grey areas (for promotion of trade) rather than in the sectors where the business community on both sides of the border is slightly uneasy and sensitive”.
Rao’s opening statement hints at the biggest thorny issue — the possibility of abolishing Pakistan-specific sensitive list maintained under the South Asia Free Trade Agreement and banning trade in products where Islamabad enjoys competitive advantage.
The Indian delegation comprised officials of the Bank of India, External Affairs, and Power and Heavy Electricals, Gas Authority of India, Ministry of Railways, Civil Aviation and Quality Control Departments.
Rao said the 18-member delegation has a mandate from the Indian government to find a cooperative approach and discover commonalities. He said the way the world trade is moving is the reason why both countries are sitting across the table to normalise trade relations. He said despite multilateral trade arrangements, 60% of the total trade is still bilateral.
Pakistan’s Commerce Secretary Munir Qureshi urged India to resolve the issues of tariffs and non-tariff barriers and deficiency of infrastructure which was hampering the movement of goods. He said the business community was pushing for the resolution of all the outstanding issues. Qureshi stressed the need to provide a level-playing field to local businessmen and urged that the remaining issues should also be addressed in the same spirit of “give and take”.
Both the sides also decided to train exporters in their respective countries so they should be more familiar with quality standards — minimising problems at the time of export. In a bid to lower the cost of conducting business, both sides also reviewed the possibility to sign avoidance of double taxation treaty.
The parties gave final touches to the draft of the three agreements that will be signed today (Friday). Both the sides decided that the rules and regulations to govern these agreements will be framed within three months.
India and Pakistan also explored the possibilities of cooperation in the areas of telecommunication and courier services. They discussed promoting small and medium enterprises aimed at extending benefits to be yielded due to the normalisation of process at all possible levels.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2012.