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Thursday, May 15, 2003

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Pak. businessmen to visit India

By B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD May 14. Close on the heels of the visit by the Pakistani Parliamentarians, a delegation of Pakistan businesspersons is planning to visit India to improve trade ties.

The Pakistan Chapter SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry Programme Coordinator, Waqar Ahmed Sheikh, told The Hindu that the Pakistan Chamber of Commerce has decided to send a group of representatives to India.

``We are only waiting for resumption of communication links particularly resumption of the snapped air links before finalising the dates. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has also expressed a desire to send a delegation here. We look forward to the opportunity'', Mr. Sheikh said.

Barring a section of the industry, most businesspersons in Pakistan are in favour of enhanced trade with India.

It is felt that free trade between the two sides would be tremendously beneficial to both.

However, the issue of trade has been a hostage to the hostilities between India and Pakistan particularly after the 1965 and 1971 wars.

The establishment in Pakistan, irrespective of the label, has linked the trade ties to resolution of Kashmir issue.

The Commerce Minister of Pakistan, Humayun Akthar, has been advocating for the resolution of Kashmir before active trade cooperation. However, there is a slight change in Pakistani position after the peace initiative by the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee.

According to Mr. Khan there could be simultaneous dialogue on Kashmir and trade. Change in the stance of Pakistan on trade with India was also evident from the announcement made by its Prime Minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, over the decision of Islamabad to add 78 more items to the `positive list' of commodities that could be imported from India.

There were indications from Pakistan that it is willing to improve trade with India in the framework of SAARC. It has agreed to implement in phases the South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement (SAPTA) and South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA).

The bilateral trade is governed by Pakistan's restricted list of commodities. The list consisted of 623 items and after the recent announcement by Mr. Jamali, it would exceed 700.

Official trade between the two sides is estimated to be below $600 million.

However, the volume of unofficial trade is almost three times. But, the unofficial trade is routed through third countries pushing up costs.

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