With strong indications coming from Pakistan that it wants to normalise bilateral trade relations, India is confident of moving ahead with its neighbour under the framework of the South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement (SAFTA) for eventually entering into preferential trading agreements.
Stating this ahead of the visit of a high-level Indian government-cum-industry delegation to Pakistan, commerce secretary Rahul Khullar said on Sunday that the “signs of transition are very evident” from the Pakistan’s side when it comes to improving its existing bilateral trade relations with India .
“I expect the arrangements to be in place at the earliest. To begin with, we expect Pakistan — as the indications are quite strong — to make an announcement, during this visit itself, over moving to a negative list regime as against the positive list of 1948 items,” he said. “In the second phase, we expect Pakistan to dismantle this this list and finally move towards according the Most Favoured Nation Status (MFN) to India, as has already been announced in principle by the Cabinet of Pakistan.”
The Indian delegation is led by commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma along with secretaries of commerce, home and other senior officials. Also accompanying the delegation is the team of 120 business leaders to Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.
While addressing a media gathering on Sunday, Sharma said he will also meet the Prime Minister of Pakistan Yousuf Raza Gilani and call on President, Asif Ali Zardari during his four day visit to Pakistan.
Sharma said he and his Pakistani counterpart, Makhdoom Mohammad Amin Fahim, will also inspect the progress of the dedicated trade gate at Wagah on Monday.
“We will announce a time frame to throw it open for trade soon as there are some contractual work delays.”
In addition, Sharma said that New Delhi is also in favour of an agreement for multiple entry visa regime to normalize and encourage trade between the two countries. Sharma will also attend the SAFTA ministerial meet in Islamabad on February 16 before he returns back to New Delhi. This is the first bilateral visit by an Indian commerce minister in the last 35 years, Khullar said.
The Indian delegation will also participate in the Indian Show being held at Lahore, where Indian businessmen have displayed their products to attract Pakistani consumers.
During the SAFTA conference, the member countries would deliberate on how the sensitive list of tradable items could be further reduced. They would also be briefed about the outcome of recently concluded bilateral meeting between Pakistani and Indian commerce ministers.