A landmark gathering of some of the most influential Pakistani and Indian business and corporate leaders extended unequivocal support to the objectives of the Aman ki Asha initiative launched by the Jang Group and the Times of India. The Aman ki Asha Conference, partnered by the Pakistan Business Council and the Confederation of Indian Industry, was the largest and the most high-profile in the history of the two countries – attracting nearly 100 Indian and 350 Pakistani business leaders. Delegates strongly endorsed the peace process and efforts to build close economic and trade relations between the two South Asian neighbours. In parallel with the trade and investment tract, meetings were also held by the Aman ki Asha committees on healthcare and the capital market.
The conference, held in Lahore on May 7 and 8, 2012, also attracted Pakistan’s top political leadership including Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Tehreek-e-Insaaf Chairman Imran Khan, who unanimously supported the Pakistan-India peace process, calling it vital for the prosperity and welfare of the people of the two countries. Prime Minister Gilani, in his inaugural address, stressed the need for building relations based on mutual trust and said that economic collaboration could serve as a bridge for peace, a cherished goal of his government. Expressing strong confidence in the business leaders of both countries, he likened them to ambassadors of peace.
The two-day deliberations covered a broad spectrum of economic and trade issues and discussed the vast opportunities and challenges, looking beyond the grant of most favoured nation (MFN) status to India and easing non-tariff barriers on Pakistani imports. The delegates recognized that in the post-MFN scenario, many sectoral adjustments and realignments may need to take place. While some sectors may be adversely impacted, the overall impact of a freer trade regime would be overwhelmingly positive for traders and consumers of both countries. The massive economic potential can be gauged from the fact that participants expect a six-fold increase in Pakistan-India trade volumes from the current $2.4-billion level to $15 billion by 2015.
Delegates called for the economic integration of South Asia and urged both governments to take all steps necessary to realise the tremendous potential of the region. They resolved to aggressively push the agenda for peace and economic cooperation.
The conference took the following decisions:
1. Set up a dedicated group, comprising both Pakistani and Indian business leaders, to lobby with their governments to provide a facilitative regulatory framework to allow for greater economic collaboration;
2. The delegates reiterated that the six sectors identified in the Delhi Declaration 2010 constituted low-hanging fruit and had the greatest potential for collaboration. These were: textile, energy, information technology, agriculture, healthcare and education skill development. Committees on IT, textiles, health and education sectors already exist. The remaining should be formed as soon as possible (in subsequent meetings, strong potential was also seen in the chemicals sector);
3. The delegates decided to strongly push for easing the visa regime and urged both governments to open all the trade routes which existed before 1965;
4. The delegates strongly recommended that restrictions on cell phone roaming facility be removed and banking relations be established immediately;
5. Meetings between the capital market committees resolved to push for cross border equity investments, listing and trading of scrips; and
6. The participants decided that the Aman ki Asha Economic Conference will be held annually. The third economic conference will be held in New Delhi in 2013, to be partnered again by the Jang Group, the Times of India group, the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Pakistan Business Council.