KARACHI: Pakistan has rejected the Indian media reports that Commerce Minister Pervaiz Malik has agreed to attend an informal World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting taking place in Delhi on March 19-20 and said no such decision has been taken in this regard.
"It has yet not been decided if he will be able to attend the meeting," Commerce Ministry's spokesman Muhammad Ashraf said in a press statement on Monday.
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Talking to The Express Tribune, Ashraf said the ministry takes such decisions in consultation with the Foreign Office. The consultation usually takes place if there is a plan to go to attend the forum. Since there is no such plan to attend the meeting, so no such consultation has taken place so far, he added.
"Bilateral trade ties are linked with comprehensive dialogue. While the process [of comprehensive dialogue] is stalled since long then what is the point to attend the informal meeting?" "Mr Malik will not attend the meeting as per the decision in place at this point of time," he added.
A source privy to the development said if officials of the two countries have decided through backdoor channels to resume formal talks at states level to normalise their relationship then Pakistani authorities have not yet communicated such a decision to the ministry of commerce.
"If India is really serious to resume negotiations to change relationship into friendly one then it should stop killing innocent people and personnel alongside the Line of Control (LoC) and resume dialogue on all fronts including Kashmir," he added.
Pakistan and India are having formal and informal estimated trade worth $5-6 billion, which is considered half formal and half informal. The informal trade largely takes place via Dubai seaport.
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However, the Pakistan Business Council Chief Executive Officer Ehsan Malik said India's invitation to the Pakistan Commerce Minister is a welcome development, particularly at a time when Pakistan is threatened by economic isolation.
He said the earlier agreement between the two countries not to allow their differences to thwart regional and global forums such as the WTO from moving forward is a mature one.
Pakistan has been seeking the removal of Non-Trade Barriers by India as an essential step to granting it a Most Favoured Nation status. Regional trade integration is consistent with Pakistan's thrust to diversify export products and destinations. Aside from China, Pakistan's direct trade with its neighbours is low.
Experts believe that it is unrealistic to expect this visit, if it materialises, to lead to greater trade between the two countries. However, revival of engagement at the highest level will help build confidence.