Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma on Thursday hinted that India was open to the idea of allowing private banks to open their branches in Pakistan and also open up new land trade routes in Punjab and Rajasthan.

“Let both the countries first establish two branches each of the nationalised banks in each other’s territory. Then we can also look at the possibility of expanding the area of further co-operation by bringing in the role of private sector banks. We are open to allowing private sector banks also doing business in each other’s country,’’ Mr. Sharma told a Pakistan Business Council headed by Ali. S. Habib.

Referring to opening up of more land trade routes, Mr. Sharma informed the Pakistan delegation that India was keen on opening up new land routes from Khokhrapar-Munnbao in Rajasthan connecting Sindh in Pakistan and another point on the Indian side of Punjab. A modern integrated check post (ICP) has been set up by India at Attari border near Amritsar for trade facilitation. The ICP was operationalised on April 13. “It would be beneficial to the business communities of both sides if Pakistan allows all items not in the negative list to be traded across the land border at Attari-Wagah. We are keen on Khokhrapar-Munabao. A joint working group was being set up for this purpose. I believe there is a similar desire from the Pakistan side so that other states of Pakistan are also connected,’’ Mr. Sharma said.

Similarly, Mr. Sharma informed the delegation that India was working on the South Asia Textile Cooperation Policy with an eye on helping its neighbours. This assurance has come after a member of the Pakistan delegation pointed that his country’s textile industry was given a different treatment by India as compared to other neighbouring countries, including Bangladesh and this should be done away with immediately.

Referring to the introduction of new visa regime between the two nations, Mr. Sharma said Pakistan should operationalise the process soon for smooth movement of businessmen from both countries. India and Pakistan signed a new visa agreement on September 8 in Islamabad. Once implemented, the agreement will lead to liberalisation of the bilateral visa regime and introduction of a number of measures aimed at easing travel, including visits for business purposes. “The new visa agreement has still not come into force. Pakistan needs to indicate its readiness to bring into force the new visa agreement. We are ready to do so,” Mr. Sharma told the delegation.

Mr. Habib said the Commerce Minister informed the delegation that steps were being taken to remove non-tariff barriers. “We have been assured that steps are being and will be taken in this regard. In so many sectors, we can cooperate. India produces all kinds of raw materials and products that Pakistan is importing. Pakistan is very strong in textiles,” he added.

He said there was a need to focus on issues such as logistics, transportation, better visa regime and more points for flow of goods between the countries. The 11-member business delegation is here on a three-day visit. Bilateral trade between the two countries now stands at $2.7 billion.

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