Thursday, February 10, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Indian, Pak traders panic
From Varinder Walia and Ashok Sethi
Tribune News Service

ATTARI, Feb 9 — A sense of unease has gripped the traders in both India and Pakistan with conflicting statements over the future of the Samjhauta Express, the biweekly train which not only binds India with Pakistan but also Afghanistan.

The hike in import duty from 20 per cent to 60 per cet announced today by the Government of India and the blanket ban on the import of cotton from Pakistan recently will have adverse affects on the import-export business between both countries.

The president of the Amritsar Exporters Chamber of Commerce, Mr Devinder, who returned from a fortnight-long business trip to Pakistan, has said that the importers from Pakistan are so panicky about the future of the Samjhauta Express that they have started winding up their trade with India. They do not want to invest too much in India, he said.

The once-flourishing Indo-Pakistan trade is now facing a bleak future. The downward trend can be gauged from the fact that during last week, inter-change of goods coaches showed that out of 72 loaded coaches sent to Pakistan 65 returned empty.

The comparative data available with the Customs Department here shows that the imports from Pakistan during the past six months — from September, 1999, to January, 2000 — declined by at least 75 per cent. During that period the imports stood at Rs 218 crore against Rs 58.50 crore during the current five-month period.

Likewise, the exports too declined alarmingly. The amount of exports stood at Rs 61.21 crore during the five months ended on January, 2000, against Rs 93.62 crore last year.

A Customs officer has said that last year, India imported sugar, dry fruits and rock salt in bulk, but presently, with the exception of dry dates valued at over Rs 60 crore, no other product is coming from across the border.

However, the exports from here too have declined. Indian traders were able to export large quantities of soya bean meal or feed, besides red chillies, cardamom, tyres and fresh ginger.

The chairman of the Indo-Pak Exporters Association, Mr Om Parkash Arora, talking to TNS here, felt that there was no need for stopping the Samjhauta Express. He added that the government should strengthen the security, intensify vigil and curb corruption at the entry points.

Mr Arora claimed that the Kargil incident and the Army rule in Pakistan had literally no impact on trade between the two countries but the offer of cheaper goods by China, Thailand and other south-eastern countries was responsible for the decline in trade.

He pointed that only in extreme circumstances, if there was a security threat to the country due to the train should the government take the decision to stop the train.

The only difference he felt during his recent visit to Pakistan after the army takeover was that intelligence men shadowed Indian traders and asked questions about their antecedents. Under such circumstances, the trade suffered.

A local trader, preferring anonymity, said last month, allegedly on the instructions of army generals, the rates of dry dates being exported to India were jacked up by at least 10 per cent, ‘defying all business ethics.” He added that keeping in view their long-term business ties with Pakistan, Indian traders had coughed up the additional amount.

On the other hand, the President of the Amritsar Exporters Chambers, Mr Devinder Singh pointed out that a peaceful atmosphere was needed for trade, but the growing tension among both nations had made Indian traders think of alternatives. In the prevailing situation of mistrust, small traders in India and Pakistan were being hit the hardest.

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