LAHORE: A two-day 2nd Aman Ki Asha Economic Conference under the theme of “Dividends” started at a local hotel on Monday to discuss ways and means to improve and strengthen relations between Pakistan and India.
The moot is a joint initiative of Jang Group Pakistan and The Times of India in collaboration with Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Pakistan Business Council (PBC), Trade Development Authority Pakistan (TDAP) and National Bank of Pakistan.
Addressing the moot, Indian High Commissioner Sharat Shabarwal said that India wanted to build a relationship of friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation with Pakistan.
He said that there was a keen desire on both sides to improve trade and economic links, bridge the information gap between business communities and address each other’s concerns. “A number of business delegations have travelled in both countries to bridge the information gap and dialogue between the two commerce ministries has led to a number of important steps,” he added.
Shabarwal said the moot would enable businessmen of both sides to discuss modalities to expand trade and economic relations between the two countries, particularly in the light of opportunities arisen as a result of interaction between the commerce ministries over the last one year.
The Indian high commissioner also appreciated the decision of the Pakistan government to accord an MFN (Most Favoured Nation) status to India, as well as to move from a positive list of imports from India to a negative list. “We hope that the negative list will be phased out by the end of the year, as planned. The step will also pave the way for preferential trade between the countries under the South Asian Free Trade Area Agreement or (SAFTA),” he maintained.
He said that significant steps had also been taken to address concerns and apprehensions of business communities on both sides, adding that India and Pakistan also initialed three agreements in areas of customs cooperation, mutual recognition of testing laboratories and redress of trade grievances and they would be signed and put into effect in coming weeks.
Shabarwal said, “We will like to carry the process of trade liberalization forward in a manner to create a win-win situation for both sides.” He added that in February India had supported approval of the European Union trade concessions package for Pakistan by the WTO General Council. “We are ready to commence discussion on reducing the size of sensitive lists under SAFTA. India has also agreed to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from Pakistan for which necessary procedures and requirements are being formulated,” he maintained.
“As a result of two meetings held last year, both sides’ interior ministries were able to finalize the draft of a revised visa agreemment, containing, inter alia, liberal provisions for business visas. We hope it will be signed during a meeting of our interior/home secretaries in coming weeks,” he added.
He said the Wagha-Attari trade gate was another mega achievement of the neighbouring countries that would boost the bilateral trade volume. “I will like to mention in particular the decision taken by the commerce ministers earlier this year to explore the opening of the Munabao- Khokhrapar route for trade. Such land trade routes, besides giving freight advantage to goods of both countries, will also contribute significantly to the economy of the regions on both sides of the border, ” he mentioned.
The Indian High Commissioner said that India and Pakistan should target $ 12 billion trade within next five years, asserting, “Our growing economic agenda also includes finalization of modalities of electricity trade between the two countries and trade in petroleum products.”
In his address at Aman Ki Asha Economic Conference, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) President Adi Godrej said the organisation was also focusing on bilateral trade relations, deepen and strengthen people-to-people contact and share herritage. The CII, he added, wanted to enhance Pak-India exports, however, a lot has yet to be done to reach the full potential of each other. “Matters pertaining to FDI, non-tariff barriers, energy trade, opening of air and land trade routes between the two countries needed greater focus,” he said and cited, “Then we will be able to converge our potential to gain $ 10 billion bilateral trade volume by 2015.”
Pakistan Business Council (PBC) Chairman Asad Umar also expressed the same view by saying that the PBC wished improved trade ties with India and as soon barriers were removed it would be better for citizens of both countries and “We will really be entering into a meaningful relationship.”
He, however, expressed concern that Pakistan textile products were not given attention by the Indian side which was focused on textile exports from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and added that unless India resolved the matter, the Pak-India peace initiative could not bear tangible results.
Times of India Executive Director Rahul Kansal said ‘Aman Ki Asha’ was aimed at opening new windows in each others minds by involving the media and civil society. “Under this peace initiative, we have stressed upon cultural relations and economic cooperation to get closer together and share our potential for the benefit of both sides as well as to enhance people-to-people contact,” he added.