NEW DELHI: India and Pakistan agreed on Saturday to expand movement of trucks and containers through their main border crossing to round-the-clock, signalling a thaw in relations after a year of tensions along the disputed border.
The meeting between Commerce and Textile Industry Minister Khurram Dastagir Khan and his Indian counterpart Shri Anand Sharma on the margins of 5th SAARC Business Leaders Conclave was preceded by consultations between the secretaries of commerce on matters related to economic and trade relations.
Trade ministers of the two countries meeting in New Delhi also approved a liberalised visa policy for businessmen to help expand two-way trade, which was barely $2.5 billion in 2012-13 fiscal year against a potential $10 billion.
They decided to implement the measures agreed upon before the end of next month.
Both sides hope closer integration of Pakistan with India's giant economy would help lay the ground for a lowering of political tensions between them.
"We have agreed that we will open Wagah-Attari border 24/7 for trade," Anand Sharma, India's trade minister told reporters, referring to the main border crossing in Punjab.
The border gates at the moment are open only from dawn to dusk. Pakistan also agreed to provide non-discriminatory market access (NDMA) to Indian companies.
Over the last year there was little movement on trade because of a series of incidents over military control of the line dividing Kashmir between the two countries.
Two years ago, the two countries set a goal of taking bilateral trade to $6 billion by 2014, which now seems difficult to attain. Pakistan's Commerce Minister Khurram Dastagir Khan said the country's central bank had proposed its Indian counterpart grant banking licences to three Pakistani banks, a move which would be reciprocated by his side.
"In the banking sector we are hoping to have some progress,
very rapid progress," he said.
The ministers emphasised the importance of trade facilitation measures and directed their respective ministries to work out modalities for containerisation of cargo; allowing all tradeable items by land route at Wagah; liberalization of business visa regime; enhancing operational hours at Wagah and Attari and consider other such measures as deemed necessary by the business communities of the two countries.
They agreed that both sides would convene the meetings of technical working groups of customs, railways, banking, standards organizations and energy to devise the modalities for effective implementation of all requisite measures.
With the objective of enhancing bilateral trade opportunities, FICCI and the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan are also coordinating an 'India Show" in Lahore in mid-February.
Joint Business Forum
A Joint Business Forum of Chief Executive Officers indifferent sectors have also met twice after the formation of the present Pakistan Government.
Several sub-groups have been formed by this Joint Business Forum to enhance trade cooperation in diverse sector such as textiles, tourism, energy, light engineering, Pharmaceutical and others.
The third meeting of this Joint Business Forum is scheduled in Pakistan for mid-February.
Both Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan's
Nawaz Sharif who took power last year are keen to rebuild ties.
Pakistan's economy grew at 3.6 per cent in 2012-13 and the government was forced to borrow $6.7 billion from the
International Monetary Fund to avert a default of payments.
Sharma said he will lead a business delegation to Pakistan next month.
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