By Tahir Sherani
Islamabad – Commerce secretaries of Pakistan and India met here on Wednesday for resumption of trade talks to expand bilateral trade. The talks were stalled since the Mumbai terrorist attacks about two years ago.
Pakistani Commerce Secretary Zaffar Mahmood and Indian Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar are leading delegations in talks opened. Indian Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar, along with a six-member delegation, arrived here on Tuesday to hold talks with his Pakistani counterpart on trade related issues
During the two-day talks, a number of issues are expected to be taken up for furthering commercial ties including the issue of the Indian obstruction to Pakistani exports.
It is learnt that Pakistan will press for an end to the Indian opposition to the EU package which will be taken up for consideration early next month at the WTO.
Sources said that Pakistan could offer to consider more items of Indian interest in the positive trade list. Pakistan unilaterally expanded the positive list in February, setting the stage for full resumption of trade talks. The items on the positive list, 1,946 goods, can be traded between the two countries. The Indian government has offered to export electricity and petroleum products to Pakistan.
“Pakistan understands that there is great potential to further increase the bilateral trade and we want to take substantial steps to tap the opportunities arising of the technological advancement in the field of infrastructure to facilitate our Commerce Secretaries traders”, said by Secretary Commerce Zaffar Mahmood in the beginning of talks.
He said this process of dialogue started in 2004 and till 2007 four rounds of talks were held and substantial progress on different issues was achieved during these rounds.
“I believe that this meeting will take the dialogue process farward, and by the end of the meeting, all issues, relating to facilitation and promotion of bilateral would be addressed with consensus”, said Zaffar Mahmood.
He said there is open agenda and we will discuss all the issues which will be in the interest of our bilateral trade relations. Agencies Add: India and Pakistan on Wednesday began their first trade talks since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, opening a two-day session designed to boost business between the nuclear-armed rivals.
India blamed the attack -- in which gunmen killed 166 people -- on the banned Pakistan-based Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba and Pakistan has acknowledged that the plot was hatched at least partly on its soil. Pakistan commerce and trade secretary Zafar Mahmood and his Indian counterpart Rahul Khullar led the talks at a five-star hotel in Islamabad.
"I believe that this meeting will take the dialogue process forward and by the end of the meeting all issues relating to facilitation and promotion of bilateral trade could be addressed with consensus," Mahmood said. Mahmood said the talks had an "open agenda" and the two sides would discuss "all the issues" of interest to both countries.
He said improving trade would economically benefit both countries and the region. Pakistan's economy languishes far behind that of India. "Pakistan understands that there is a great potential to further increase the bilateral trade," Mahmood said.
Khullar called for a quick turnaround of trade after four previous rounds of commerce talks ground to a halt in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. "This is a process that was interrupted and that must resume and go on. It must acquire significantly fast momentum if only to catch up for the time that we have lost," Khullar said.
"We are ready and willing to move forward and our only perspective here is one of constructive engagement to move the bilateral trade agenda and commercial agenda ahead and fast." Trade between Pakistan and India is around $2 billion. Acrimonious ties between the neighbours eased last month when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani watched the India-Pakistan World Cup cricket semi final in northern India.
The nuclear-armed nations have fought three wars since attaining independence in 1947, two over the disputed territory of Kashmir.