India and Pakistan have agreed in principle to allow trucks to cross the international border at Attari-Wagah ahead of their two-day-long Commerce Secretary-level talks in the capital from Tuesday.
At present, the two countries have a rather cumbersome process of workers physically carrying goods across the Attari-Wagah land border – with Indian and Pakistani trucks being lined up on either side.
Officials familiar with the issue said on Monday that the two countries wanted that there should be designated points on either side of the border to where the trucks could halt. Operational issues would have to be examined before giving effect to the proposal.
Commerce Secretary GK Pillai and his Pakistani counterpart Syef Asif Shah would be leading their respective delegations at the talks, which are part and parcel of the ongoing composite dialogue between the two countries.
According to the officials, the Pakistani side is also expected to respond positively to a proposal that would allow the movement of cargo along the new Khokrapar (Sind)-Munabao (Rajasthan) rail route.
The Thar Express, along the Khokrapar-Munabao route, is currently a weekly service and the plan is to allow goods to cross the international border here as well. (This route had fallen into disuse after the 1965 war and saw resumption of the train service only last year).
The question of India importing cement from Pakistan in large quantities will also figure in the talks between the two Commerce Secretaries. According to the officials, putting in place standards on the Indian side to allow for the import of cement remains an outstanding issue.
The Commerce Secretaries, whose talks commence on Tuesday afternoon, will meet for a third day on Thursday as part of the Joint Study Group (JSG) mechanism agreed to in November 2002 during Commerce Minister Kamal Nath’s visit to Islamabad.
<b1>The mandate given to the JSG was to examine the possibilities of “further preferential trade arrangements” between the two countries on “goods and services as well as investment”. The officials conceded that there would be a degree of overlap between the composite dialogue structure of discussing “economic and commercial cooperation” and the JSG mechanism.
India and Pakistan had been involved in a public spat after Islamabad refused to apply the “sensitive” list it announced under the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement, which became operational in July 2006, for New Delhi.
New Delhi was also surprised that while announcing the “sensitive” list, Pakistan stated that trade with India would still be governed by a positive, bilateral list it maintained for its eastern neighbour.
In September 2006, Pakistan, however, expanded its positive list for trade with India –raising the number of items by 302 – from the existing 773. This was viewed positively by India.
India still wants that Pakistan fully implement SAFTA and go by the sensitive, or negative list, for trade with New Delhi as well. This issue, both sides have agreed, must be resolved through SAARC channels.
In 2005-06, the total value of formal trade between the two countries was $859.33 million.