Pak to announce steps to improve trade ties: Sharma

New Delhi: Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma today left for Pakistan amid high expectations that the neighbouring nation will announce the first major step to normalise trade with New Delhi and eventually grant the much-awaited MFN status to India by the year-end.

As per the mutually agreed road map, Pakistan is committed to shifting its trade regime with India from the Positive List (PL) to Negative List (NL), thus allowing multi-fold increase in access to Indian Goods in the Pakistani Market.

At present, Islamabad allows only 1,946 items of imports from India, whereas New Delhi permits import from Pakistan of all, but a few items in the Indian NL.

"There is every reason for us to believe that there is an expressed wish and desire on part of move to the (negative list) regime which deepens and diversifies trade and enhances economic engagements," Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharm told reporters here.

When asked whether he is confident that Pakistan will announced NL during the visit, he replied, "This is the understanding which has been given to us when the Pakistani Commerce Secretary came again in November."

On talk about multiple-entry visa regime during the visit, Sharma said that there would be discussion on that. "Both the government`s have talked. The drafts have been exchanged. We are in favour of an early conclusion of singing of an agreement for a multiple entry visa regime to facilitate the movement of business leaders of India and Pakistan as part of the process of normalisation," he added.

According to the road map for giving Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India, Pakistan will eventually dismantle the NL by end of this year. Under the MFN status, all partners have equal rights.

"With Pakistan moving to the negative list regime as they have declared, this will be a major boost to two-way trade. We expect the trade to double in next three to four years from the current level of USD 2.7 billion," Sharma said.

However according to the industry estimates, improved ties between the two countries can translate into USD 10 billion bilateral trade by 2015.

India and Pakistan`s trade with each other amounts to less than 1 per cent of their respective global trade. India has extended the MFN status to Pakistan in 1996 and does not impose equivalent formal restrictions on exports or imports from Pakistan.

It is our hope, the minister said that by taking the economic relationship to higher level, will create and environment of trust and confidence which is essential in our considered view, bilaterally for both the countries and for entire region of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation).

Sharma, along with 120-member strong delegation, will visit Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad to interact with Pakistani CEOs and officials. The main objective of the three-day visit is to completely normalise trade ties between the countries.

Sharma said that after independence, this is the first visit of any Indian Commerce Minister to Pakistan. The minster will also be calling on Prime Minister, Sayed Yusuf Raza Gillani and President, Asif Ali Zardari. He will also be addressing the 6th SAFTA Ministerial Council meeting in Islamabad on February 16.

Sharma also informed that he and his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Amin Fahim would see the progress of Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Attari-Wagah border tomorrow morning. The ambitious ICP project at the Attari border is spread over 130 acres and will cost Rs 120 crore.