Pak to normalise bilateral trade with India

New Delhi: Pakistan has agreed to normalise its trade relations with India by opening its market to all but a few Indian items, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said informed the Rajya Sabha today. The two countries agreed last month that as a move to normalise bilateral trade, Pakistan will transit from the current positive approach to a negative list system, he said during Question Hour.

Sharma was asked as to when Pakistan will grant the most favoured status (MFN) to India. Under the present arrangement, Pakistan allows import of about 1,900 items from India, which are in its positive list. On the other hand, India permits import of all but a few Pakistani items which are in the Indian negative list. New Delhi has been seeking a similar system of trade from Islamabad so that more Indian goods can reach the Pakistani market.

Sharma said Pakistan has agreed to have a small negative list, which will be notified by February next year paving way for larger market access to Indian goods in the neighbouring country. “The consultation process on devising this negative list is almost complete,” he said.

After Pakistan announces the negative list approach, Sharma said he will lead a delegation to the neighbouring country. Even the small negative list will be phased out by 2012-end, amounting to grant of MFN treatment to India by Pakistan, Sharma said. Replying to a supplementary, Sharma said India and Pakistan have decided to improve preferential trade arrangement under the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).

The two countries are signatories of SAFTA and are obligated to accord preferential trade arrangements over and above MFN principles, he said. The two countries are also required to reduce peak tariff to 5 per cent by December 2012 for all tariff lines, except those in the respective `sensitive lists` under the Trade Liberalisation Programme of the SAFTA, he said.

On visa regime, Sharma said both sides have agreed that the current visa system for businesspersons was a significant barrier to the rapid expansion of trade. India and Pakistan have reached a broad understanding to put in place a reciprocal arrangement to liberalise the visa provisions for business persons, he said.