M A I N   N E W S

MFN status to India likely to be delayed
Trade barriers with Pakistan to go, says India
Ashok Tuteja writes from Lahore

Commerce Minister Anand Sharma arrived here on Monday as the head of the largest-ever Indian business delegation to Pakistan, affirming India’s resolve to dismantle trade barriers and build a relationship of trust and confidence with the neighbouring country.

However, New Delhi’s spirit was dampened somewhat when Pakistan indicated that it might not be able to finalise the ‘negative list’ of items for trade between the two countries by February-end as was earlier promised by it.

This would inevitably delay the granting of the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status by Pakistan to India.

Sharma’s visit marks the first trip by an Indian Commerce Minister to Pakistan. During his four-day visit, the minister will, apart from Lahore, visit Karachi and Islamabad. In the Pakistani capital, he is expected to call on Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

On Wednesday the two countries are expected to sign agreements on customs cooperation to avoid arbitrary stoppage of goods at each other’s ports, another for acceptance of certificates of internationally accredited laboratories and the third one for removal of grievances in case of any disagreement.

The visit has generated a lot of excitement in Pakistan and this was very much evident when Sharma crossed the Wagah land border this morning to enter Pakistan along with his nearly 150-strong delegation.

Pakistan Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim hugged Sharma as he received his Indian guest amid the playing of the National Anthems of the two countries. Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Sharat Sabharwal and Pakistan envoy to India Shahid Malik were among those who received the Indian minister.

The two ministers then posed for photographers before addressing a joint press conference. “We have come here for a substantive visit as part of the (peace) process initiated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and PM Gilani to take the relationship to a higher level,’’ he said.

India, Sharma said, was keen to deepen and diversify the bilateral economic engagement with Pakistan, which would help both countries, particularly the younger generation. The two countries aim to double their trade volume in three years.

Asked if Pakistan’s ‘negative list’ of items was ready, the Pakistani Minister said the commerce secretaries of the two countries were discussing the issue.

However, he could not give any time frame on when the list would be ready. He said Pakistan’s Cabinet had decided in principle to accord the MFN status to India in November last year and ‘we are moving towards this end.’

At present, Pakistan maintains a list of 1,945 items allowed to run from India to Pakistan - but only 108 can be transported directly by road through Wagah. Major items of export from India to Pakistan are sugar, cotton, man-made filaments and chemicals, while its top imports from Pakistan include fruit, mineral fuels, and organic chemicals.

Pakistan is find it difficult to sell its people the idea of granting the MFN status to India. The apprehension among the Pakistani business community is that the Pakistani markets will be flooded with Indian goods once India gets the MFN status. Various ‘jehadi’ groups have also vehemently opposed the proposal.

Meanwhile, the two ministers was quick to announce that the two countries had agreed to give multiple entry visa for three years to businessmen from each other’s country. The draft of the agreement had already been exchanged and the accord would be signed soon. Sharma also stated that an integrated check post would be ready at the Attari-Wagah border by April 30 for facilitating trade between the two nations.

When a Pakistani journalist asked him how India and Pakistan could make any progress on trade and other issues without resolving the Kashmir issue, Sharma said the two countries were discussing all outstanding issues to peacefully resolve them. “I bring the message of peace and friendship from India,’’ said Sharma.

Later, the two ministers visited the Lahore Export Centre to watch an exhibition of Indian products. A one-time import of Indian goods, which are not on the positive list, was allowed for the three-day show, which ended this evening.





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