M A I N   N E W S

Cabinet okays talks on gas pipelines
Indo-Pak expert group to meet on February 22
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 9
For the first time in the bitter history of India and Pakistan, the two countries will have an expert group meeting here on February 22-23 to discuss ways to boost bilateral trade.

Commerce Secretaries of the two countries will be leading their respective delegations for the trade expert group meeting. The Pakistani delegation is arriving here on February 21.

An important task before the joint expert group would be to identify bottlenecks in bilateral trade and how unwanted trade barriers can be removed by either side.

Asked if the scheduled meeting signified a drastic change in Pakistan’s “Kashmir-first-trade-later” policy, sources in the Ministry of External Affairs and the Pakistan High Commission here remarked that the move was a good beginning and should not be viewed from the prism of politics.

The meeting of the Indo-Pak expert group on trade is being held in pursuance to September 2004 decision of the two countries’ foreign ministers which underlined the need for boosting bilateral trade between the two neighbours.

Indo-Pak bilateral trade at present is a measly half a billion dollars whereas the two countries have the potential of increasing it by ten times if the two governments take appropriate steps.

Meanwhile, in a move that is going to give a fillip to increased trade ties between India and Pakistan, the Union Cabinet today gave its approval to authorise the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to participate in bilateral and multilateral negotiations with Pakistan and other countries like Iran and Bangladesh on gas pipelines projects and also for facilitating the laying of transnational pipelines for import of natural gas to India.

The three gas pipeline projects India is currently negotiating are: (i) with Iran via Pakistan, (ii) with Myanmar via Bangladesh and (iii) with Turkmenistan via Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Natural gas is the most economic, efficient and environment-friendly fuel. An estimated demand of natural gas in India is 150 Million Standard Cubic Metres Per Day but the current availability is about 83 units.

Pakistan has been treating the pipeline projects as “stand-alone” projects, while India has been very keen that it would consider these projects favourably if Pakistan were to grant Most Favoured Nation status to India. New Delhi had granted MFN status to Pakistan years ago.

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