Commerce Minister Engineer Khurram Dastgir has said that Pakistan is waiting for New Delhi’s response to acceptance of “some specific conditions” which will lead to trade liberalisation on a reciprocal basis and without a positive response the process cannot go forward. Prime Minister’s office, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Finance, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs are extensively engaged in inter ministerial consultations on this sensitive issue.

In an exclusive chat with Business Recorder, Dastgir said that trade normalisation process with India cannot move forward until negotiations are concluded. In reply to a question, he said that Commerce Ministry will submit a summary to the federal cabinet on the “updated position” on trade normalisation process with India after a response is received from New Delhi. Sources close to Secretary Commerce, however, claim that Indian Commerce Minister, Anand Sharma has conveyed his willingness to visit Pakistan to sign an agreement, according to which Pakistan will grant Non Discriminatory Market Access (NDMA), another name for Most favoured nation Status (MFN) to India.

Commerce Ministry, sources said, has proposed March 21, 2014 for a special cabinet meeting on this issue. Former Commerce Secretary Zafar Mehmood is also expected to brief the cabinet. In response to another question, Commerce Minister stated he would personally go through each and every word of the text of the pact to be signed with India, adding that he would not entirely depend on the Commerce Ministry which played havoc with Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs) with other countries.

“I will not allow the repeat of the same on our domestic industry in a pact with India that was created by the Commerce Ministry in FTAs and PTAs,” he continued. He said Pakistan is deeply engaged in negotiations with India and until these negotiations are concluded, the trade normalisation process will remain at the current stage.

Asked when a confirmation from New Delhi is expected, Commerce Minister expressed ignorance, but pointed out that there maybe a delay as general elections are scheduled to be held in India in April. Prime Minister, sources said, maintains that even though election fever has hit the Indian political scene yet in the event that the Indian government wants to go forward Pakistan should support it. The Prime Minister has directed Commerce Ministry to take the Indian sensitive industry especially auto sector on board prior to reaching any agreement.

Official spokesman Muhammad Ashraf said that Ministry of Commerce has held intensive consultative sessions with trade organisations, Chambers of Commerce and Industry across Pakistan, and representatives of domestic industry including the agriculture, automobile, pharmaceutical, and textile sectors in recent weeks; and will continue to hold such meetings to ensure that all stakeholders are on board.

These consultations are focused on addressing the apprehensions of Pakistan’s India-sensitive sectors that argue they would be negatively impacted as a result of trade liberalisation. It is agreed generally that trade liberalisation between the two neighbouring countries will result in significant gains for Pakistan’s economy and export sector.

Commerce Ministry, in its negotiations with India, is trying to ensure that Pakistan’s exports to India are facilitated. In this context, the effort is to successfully persuade India to reduce tariffs on principal items of Pakistan’s export interest as well as reducing and eliminating Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) towards Pakistani exporters, spokesman added. In case India accepts Pakistan’s conditions and in return is granted NDMA, Pakistan’s existing negative list of 1,209 items will be abolished and trade at the Wagah border will be opened round-the-clock.