NEW DELHI: Commerce secretaries of India and Pakistan will meet on Wednesday in a bid to reopen the trade talks that had got stalled after the ceasefire violations by Pakistan and militant incursion from Pakistan side into Kashmir last year. High on the agenda is the plan to allow more trade through the land routes and most favoured nation (MFN) status to India by Pakistan. The secretary level talks would be followed by a ministerial meeting this week.
Pakistan’s minister of state for commer Khurram Dastgir Khanwill be here on Thursday to attend the Saarc business leader’s conclave. Pakistan had agreed to give India MFN status by December 2012 but has missed that deadline because of political considerations involved.
Pakistan’s auto, pharma and agri lobbies are also opposed to greater access to India in these sectors. Under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules a member country has to give MFN status to other member country. India had given Pakistan MFN status back in 1996. It is likely that Islamabad may extend the same benefits to India as available under MFN, but call it something else that is less politically sensitive. One of the options is to call it non-discriminatory trade access.
In December, Shahbad Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab Province of Pakistan, had met commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma to start talks.
“We will convey to them that the roadmap is all made up and now we need to start triggering it off. Their Punjab minister had last month given a high degree of clarity that the new government of Pakistan is highly committed to full normalization of trade relations”, said the commerce department official.
The two sides had agreed to a roadmap on September 2012, which said India would bring down its sensitive list under SAFTA to 100 tariff line from 614 lines under SAFTA by April 2013, after Pakistan granted India MFN status by December 2012. Pakistan missed the December deadline due to pressure from the auto, pharma and agri lobbies.
As per the roadmap, Pakistan would remove restrictions on trade through land route (Attari-Wagah Integrated Check Post). It would also eliminate its balance 1,209 products from its current negative list of items importable from India. It said that Pakistan would also reduce SAFTA sensitive list for India to 100 tariff lines in a phased manner over five years.
Sharma had offered Pakistan that to debottleneck congestion at Attari-Wagah, containerised traffic could be accepted with appropriate security arrangements at customs bonded warehouses at Amritsar and Lahore.