India, Pak to sign pacts on non-tariff barriers

Lahore: India and Pakistan are set to sign three agreements to address issues such as non-tariff barriers (NTBs) that hinder bilateral trade, Indian Joint Secretary for Commerce Arvind Mehta has said.

The agreements are expected to be signed during Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma`s visit to Pakistan next month, Mehta said while speaking at the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) on Thursday.

Mehta, who is in Pakistan with a five-member delegation of Indian regulators, said these pacts are the Customs Cooperation Agreement to avoid arbitrary stoppage of goods at each other`s ports, Mutual Recognition Agreement for acceptance of certificates of internationally accredited laboratories, and Redressal of Grievances Agreement to address any disagreements.

The two sides have also finalised a very liberal visa regime that will be in place as soon as the Cabinets of the two countries grant approval, Mehta said.

India`s peak tariff line of eight per cent for Pakistan is going to be curtailed to five per cent by the year end, he said.

"The NTBs considered to be a major hurdle for cement exports to India are not Pakistan-specific. Rather the delay in clearance is only due to poor infrastructure on both sides of the border," Mehta said.

On the Indian side of the Wagah border crossing, a large customs complex – built at a cost of USD 30 million – will enable customs officials on both sides to handle 800 trucks daily, Mehta said.

LCCI President Irfan Qaiser Sheikh said NTBs were hindering improvement in Pakistan-India trade relations and must be removed.

He said there were a number of challenges related to Indian standards and quality parameters which vary from city to city. Pakistani exporters spend considerable time and money to obtain certifications and fulfil clearance requirements, he contended. .

Sheikh said multiple conditions have to be met at the clearance stage, including obtaining agricultural permits, phyto-sanitary certificates and Indian quality standards.

There are various licensing requirements for import of vehicles, textile-specific barriers and health and safety regulations, he claimed.

He said that under the protocol signed by both the governments, the Indian and Pakistani customs authorities only allow 10-wheeled trucks and hydraulic dumpers for moving goods.

This restriction is causing unnecessary delays in offloading and clearance of consignments. Often, Pakistani trucks come back without off-loading due to non-availability of labour on the Indian side, Sheikh said.

"This is causing them huge losses in the shape of extra transportation charges. We believe that 12 and 14 wheeled trucks should also be allowed to cross the border.

"Indian authorities should ensure that labour force for offloading Pakistani consignments is readily available in their customs yard," he said.

The Indian regulators, including officials from customs, Bureau of Indian Standards, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India and Export Inspection Council, informed Pakistani businessmen of the procedures for entering the Indian market.