M A I N   N E W S

India, Pak to open Wagah border 24x7 for trade
Two sides to have market access programme in place by Feb-end
Sanjeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 18
After a 16-month gap, India and Pakistan resumed trade engagement at the ministerial level by announcing a series of steps, including 24x7 trade activity at the Attari-Wagah border, allowing movement of container cargo, opening of bank branches, issuing more business visas and having a non-discriminatory market access (NDMA) programme in both countries, that will be finalised before February-end.

This was announced after a bilateral meeting between Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and his visiting Pakistani counterpart Khurram Dastgir Khan.

The ministers decided to intensify and accelerate the process of trade normalisation, liberalisation and facilitation and to implement the agreed measures before the end of February -- before the election code of conduct for the General Election comes into effect.

It will be the final dash by the UPA-II government to strengthen the economic engagement with Pakistan.

Sharma said that it has been agreed that the Wagah-Attari border would be opened for trade 24x7. The two countries have in principle also decided to give banking licences to banks nominated by respective governments. There is agreement on grant on multiple entry visas to business leaders. Promoting FDI in the two countries through investments has also been mooted.

Container cargo movement will be allowed through the Wagah border to increase trade between the two countries.

Meeting after a gap of 16 months, the Commerce Ministers of the two nations said there was agreement to have a non-discriminatory market access (NDMA) programme on a reciprocal basis.

Although the NDMA falls short of the expectations of a Most-Favoured Nation (MFN) status which India has been insisting on for long, Khan said, “Let us not get stranded on nomenclature”. He said that the idea of allowing market access to both sides and giving a level-playing field would be achieved by this programme.

The two sides stressed on the need for relaxing the visa regime to facilitate travel of businessmen in the other nation. On the opening of bank branches, Khan said Pakistan has been waiting for the Reserve Bank of India to nominate banks that could be allowed to open branches in Pakistan.

The ministers agreed that both sides would convene meetings of the technical working groups of Customs, railways, banking and standards organisations to work out the modalities for effective implementation of these measures. The bilateral trade between the two countries stood at $2.60 billion in 2012-13.

Speedy steps

* The two sides would implement the measures by February-end, before the General Election code of conduct comes into effect

* Cargo movement will be allowed through the Wagah border

* More bank branches will be opened and more business visas will be issued





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