Informally known as the leader of the Pakistani business community, and fondly referred to as ‘Bhai Jaan’, S. M. Muneer, President of India-Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry, is a strong proponent of enhanced trade and economic engagement between the two countries. He also heads the successful Din Group of companies, which has large interests in textiles, chemicals, leather, construction, banking and real estate in Pakistan and across many countries. In an interview with The Hindu in Karachi, Mr. Muneer outlines the future of Pakistan-India trade, and details the benefits of stronger trader elations.

Edited excerpts:

What is your opinion on India receiving MFN (most favoured nation) status? How long could it take for the newly-elected Pakistani government to announce this?

Grant of MFN status is very crucial issue, and such a step would give immense benefits to Pakistan. The newly-elected government will now take a call on this matter very soon. The MFN status is delayed currently due to some reservations and objections from some sections. In reality, MFN status only means that competitive opportunities for Pakistani and Indian manufacturers in each other’s market would be equal to that enjoyed by all other trading partners. In the era of globalisation, regional trade and integration is the only way for Pakistan and India to increase prosperity. This trade will be positive sum game, which has been proven by different research studies . Pakistan will get a market of 1.2 billion people and good exposure, which will improve our global competitiveness. The experience of Pakistani businessmen, who have visited India to explore the market, has been generally very positive. If there are any industries that may be impacted adversely for genuine reasons such as pharmaceuticals, automobiles, agriculture, then the government may place them in a negative list instead of keeping the entire matter on hold. The Pakistan government is expected to take a decision on this issue soon as a majority of the hurdles have been removed and concerns of the stakeholders have been addressed.

How do you see the recent political setbacks between the two countries ?

Despite the recent political setbacks, we should not forget that the only way forward for India and Pakistan is peace, friendship and economic prosperity. We need to learn from history and especially from European nations such as France, Germany and England, who fought till around six decades ago and now stand united in an alliance. Trade is one of the important dividends from the prevailing peace The recent unfortunate incidents along the line of control (LoC) have certainly given a setback. But trade has progressed without any hindrance and businessmen are now getting multi-city and one-year long visas on both sides, which is a big positive. We need to cash in on this, and further boost the trade relationship to give peace a chance. Both the countries have the option of either fighting like fools or prospering together like wise people.

How do you view India’s decision to reduce tariff lines on 264 items for the SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Agreement) sensitive list?

India has reduced tariff lines on 264 items for non-least developed countries, which includes Pakistan as well. It is meant for strengthening trade relations between the two. India has performed a positive role in harmonising the SAFTA framework, and ensuring that we move towards a vibrant economic community. This is also a move towards normalisation of trade relations with Pakistan.

What are the measures that India should take to give a boost to trade and economic engagement with Pakistan?

We have suggested to the Indian government that it develop a trade facilitation mechanism as well as infrastructure for liberalisation. We have suggested opening of other land routes such as the Khokharapur-Munabhao route and the Karachi-Hyderabad route.

It will not only increase bilateral trade but will also create opportunities for people of both countries to interact more intensely. India has built an ICP post at Wagah-Attari border, and Pakistan needs to build the same infrastructure and ensure quick customs clearance.

The agreement on opening of brand branches of Indian banks in Pakistan and Pakistani banks in India has not been implemented. State Bank of Pakistan has given its go ahead to Indian banks to open its branches in our country but the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is still to take a decision on allowing Pakistan banks to open branches in India.

This needs to be speeded up. Also, telecommunication links between the two countries, particularly mobile connections, needs to be upgraded and both countries should allow mobile connectivity across the border. Similarly, as part of the liberal visa regime for businessmen, visas should be valid for whole country and not for 10 cities, as this will be a great help for the businessman to increase business and also help boost tourism.

How do you see trade between India and Pakistan progressing in the future?

I have a desire to drive my own car from Lahore and go to Delhi or Mumbai, and I wish that Indians could do the same for Lahore and other cities. India is already the ‘Asian Tiger’. Pakistan also has immense potential to emerge as a strong economic force . Pakistan is a country with huge potential, and it can also become an Asian Tiger provided all of us think of Pakistan as our own. The balance of trade in favour of India should not be source of worry but a reflection of the relative economic size.

The liberalisation of trade will increase the GDP of Pakistan. India and Pakistan both need to provide a level-playing field instead of showing reluctance and hesitation. Let us progress like China, South Korea and Malaysia and reap the dividends of enhanced trade and economic engagement.

sujay.mehdudia@thehindu.co.in

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