Pak curbs efforts to normalise trade with India: Report

Islamabad: Pakistan has decided to curb efforts to normalise trade relations with India and the prospects of abolishing a negative list regime by December in have "considerably dimmed", according to a media report on Friday.

"Efforts to normalise trade with India have been dealt a serious blow, allegedly due to New Delhi?s reluctance to reciprocate moves made by Islamabad to ease trade restrictions," the `Express Tribune` said in a report.

"The Foreign Office has now curbed efforts that envisioned bringing the neighbours closer through stronger trade ties," the daily quoted its sources as saying.

Prospects of abolishing the negative list by December have "considerably dimmed", sources in the Commerce Ministry told the daily.

The Foreign Office believes that "slow progress in dialogues on other disputed issues necessitates toning down rapprochement efforts", the report said. Talks between Commerce Secretaries of the two countries were scheduled for May but were postponed due to objections raised by the Foreign Office, the report said.

The Foreign Office asked the Commerce Ministry to "go slow" after "no significant progress" was achieved on other contentious matters despite several rounds of talks, it said.

Commerce Secretary Munir Qureshi confirmed that talks were not held in May on the Foreign Office`s diktat, the report said. "Trade talks are not independent from other disputed issues, as they form a part of broader confidence-building measures," Qureshi told the daily. He said there were indications that the next round of talks may be held in September.

The Pakistani cabinet had given in-principle approval for abolishing the negative list, which contains 1,209 non-tradable items, by December 31. This would have paved the way for Pakistan to give Most Favoured Nation-status to India by the beginning of next year.

The cabinet had asked the Commerce Ministry to negotiate with India on more relaxations for Pakistani exporters before trade ties were completely normalised.

The Commerce Ministry was to report back to the cabinet after holding another round of talks with India. Pakistan replaced the positive list which allowed trade in only 1,956 items with a negative list in February.

During the Indian Commerce Minister`s visit to Pakistan in February, both countries inked three pacts on harmonisation of customs procedures and resolution of quality control issues. Pakistan now claims it has not yet received concessions it had earlier hoped for and that this was contrary to expectations and assurances given by India, the report said.

Pakistani sources claimed that despite signing several agreements aimed to allay Pakistan`s concerns regarding non-tariff barriers, India had not done much to make these agreements effective.

The sources further claimed India had not agreed to equal duty slabs on products on both sides of the border, a steps that Islamabad believes will boost trade by providing a level playing field to exporters of both sides.

Commerce Secretary Qureshi said non-tariff barriers were a major concern for Pakistan. Qureshi alleged India had not yet reduced its sensitive list by 30 per cent.

The list contains items that carry high duty slabs, aimed at protecting selective industries in the members of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation.

Indian officials have dismissed apprehensions expressed by Pakistan about non-tariff barriers, saying these regulations apply to all countries and not to Pakistan alone. Officials have also said that India is willing to address Pakistan?s concerns in this regard.