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Pak misses FTA date

Ambitious plan to open up bilateral trade with India suffers yet again as Islamabad delays pact. Anupama Airy reports. A border too far: trade on uneasy grounds

business Updated: Feb 14, 2012 01:01 IST
Anupama Airy
Anupama Airy
Hindustan Times
Anupama Airy,South Asian Free Trade Agreement,SAFTA

A grand effort to open up border trade and normalise the sale of goods and services between India and Pakistan hit a roadblock again on Monday when Islamabad missed a deadline and indicated further delays in moving to a "negative list" regime that would make restrictions in bilateral trade an exception rather than the rule.

The negative list regime - as opposed to the current "positive list" regime that lists items that can be traded - is required under the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA). India has a negative list but not Pakistan.

February 2012 had been set as a deadline by Pakistan to move to the new regime. But Pakistan's commerce minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim indicated further delays to the transition - and mentioned no new timelines.

"We are trying and moving towards having a negative list," Fahim told reporters after receiving his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma at the Wagah border.

Asked to indicate a timeline, he said, "It is under process but if we set a new deadline today and tomorrow we slip, it will be not good."

That set off a wave of disappointment among a bunch of top-rung industrialists from industry chambers CII and FICCI who joined Sharma on a three-day visit across the border.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a leading industrialist said, "The indications coming from the Pakistani side over moving to a negative list by February were quite strong but the minister's (Fahim's) statement indicates further delays in the process."

India also contributed to the hurdles by announcing a delay in the opening of an integrated check post (ICP) to open a trade corridor at the Attari-Wagah border, which falls between Amritsar and Lahore. The gate will now be ready only in April.

The two commerce ministers met on Monday to show just one positive movement - a multiple entry visa regime for businessmen. Sharma said both sides have exchanged drafts on the issue and an agreement will be signed soon.

"We have inspected the progress of works and have informed the Pakistani minister that the ICP will be open for trade by April as there are some contractual work delays," Sharma said.

On moving towards according the Most Favoured Nation Status (MFN) to India, as has already been announced in principle by Pakistan, Fahim said, "As our cabinet has already approved it, we are now moving towards implementing it."

"It is under process, which takes time," he added.

First Published: Feb 13, 2012 22:07 IST