The Economic Times
NEW DELHI: Weeks after Pakistan opened up a long-standing barrier to Indian imports by moving to a negative list of trade items from a restrictive positive list, 45 Indian CEOs are headed to Lahore for a two-day conference with the who’s who of the Pakistani establishment including prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
“We must expand on the positive sentiment between the two countries in recent months to boost trade and investments,” said Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) president and Godrej group chairman Adi Godrej, who leads the Indian contingent for the Second India Pakistan Economic Conference. The conference, which begins on Monday, is being organised under the aegis of Aman Ki Asha, an initiative of The Times of India and the Jang group of Pakistan.
“We are striving for a meeting of minds between the two countries’ industrialists and decision makers,” said Godrej, adding that Indian CEOs have one-on-one meetings scheduled with the Pak PM, foreign and finance ministers as well as opposition leaders like former cricketer Imran Khan. Godrej told ET that he firmly believes that stronger economic ties between India and Pakistan can bring lasting peace to the region.
“Many years ago, China and the United States were deeply suspicious of each other and trade flows were very low,” the CII chief said. “Today, they are the largest trading partners and the economic interplay has led to significantly improved ties in many other spheres of their bilateral relations. It’s very important that India and Pakistan make this transition and neither side should resort to ‘ifs and buts’ at this stage,” he said.
CII believes that the present trade flows between the two neighbours, at $2.7 billion in 2010-11, are a fraction of their potential and can touch $10 billion by 2015 with the right steps.
“The reason you see commodities dominating bilateral trade right now is that consumer products’ trade was not allowed till now. The negative list approach from Pakistan opens up possibilities for exports of consumer goods from both sides,” Godrej said, citing the success of a recent Pakistani garments exhibition in New Delhi. Indian industry captains will pitch for freeing up investment flows between the two countries as well as services trade, which is negligible.
“It’s very important to invest in each other’s economies. Partnerships between Indian and Pak entrepreneurs through joint ventures could also be possible if investments are opened up,” said Godrej.
Last week, Noor Mohammad Kasuri, chairman of the Pakistan India Business Council told local industrialists that Indian firms want to invest $20 billion to $50 billion in mining, energy and infrastructure projects.
“It’s not important how much we invest,” said Godrej. “Each company will assess opportunities and risk factors on their own. What is important that investments are freed up and there are no more restrictions and impediments. Once that happens, we can only move forward,” he said.