The Indian government is expected to announce a new visa regime for Pakistani businesspersons, allowing for multiple entry visas and – in what would be a revolutionary step – potentially exempting some businessmen altogether from visas, subject to certain conditions.
The Indian interior ministry is examining the proposal.
A committee of experts that includes the Reserve Bank of India and the State Bank of Pakistan – the central banks of both countries – will be constituted to discuss ways to facilitate trade between the two countries.
Currently, companies from both sides of the border have to use banks based in New York to conduct transactions which can result in delays and raises transaction costs.
United Bank Ltd has applied to set up branches in India while the State Bank of India – a government-owned financial conglomerate – has expressed interest in setting up branches in Pakistan. The committee will also discuss means of facilitating investments from Pakistan to India, which are currently banned. Pakistan, however, allows foreign investment from any country, including India.
The proposal to ease the visa regime will be discussed next month when the committee on non-tariff barriers (NTBs) meets. The matter would also be debated during the upcoming meeting of both the commerce ministers of India and Pakistan.
Earlier this month, Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma extended a formal invitation to his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Amin Fahim, but there has been no official confirmation yet. This will coincide with the meeting of both commerce secretaries – Rahul Khullar and Zafar Mahmood – as well.
Pakistan had earlier stated it would grant Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India by October, as it is required to do under its treaty obligation to the World Trade Organisation.
Pakistani businessmen have a number of complaints about doing business in India. There are often delays in visas, which are frequently rejected without assigning any reason. Indian businessmen have the same kind of problems in Pakistan.
Small and medium enterprises owners are especially harassed because they do not have the wherewithal to bypass police verification, which is mandatory upon arrival in India entailing a tedious process of filling up forms and examination of a number of documents resulting in wastage of time and money.
Pakistani consignments reaching India have to undergo a rigorous process of checking. The samples are taken to the labs in Kolkata all the way from Mumbai which sometimes results in delays lasting months.
Yet trade between the countries is substantial, valued at $1.9 billion in 2011. However, the volume of business that passes through Dubai is estimated to be even higher.
Textiles and agro-based industries’ products are the main items of trade between both the countries. Some of the main items of trade include cement, soda ash, chemicals, cotton, rock salt, tea and jute. In fiscal year 2011 India’s export to Pakistan topped $1.6 billion compared to Pakistan’s export to India at $275 million.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2011.