Following a 16-month hiatus, India-Pakistan relations showed signs of thawing on Saturday with the two sides agreeing to find ways of establishing reciprocal Non-Discriminatory Market Access (NDMA) by February-end. This includes issuing bank licences to allow banks to function in each other’s country.
Addressing reporters after a meeting, the Commerce Ministers of both the countries said they had agreed to open the Wagah-Attari border for trade at all times of the year. They also agreed to allow containers, which were until now unloaded at the check-post and re-loaded on the other side, to be moved right up to Amritsar and Lahore.
“We have also decided to expedite the process of giving bank licences so that Indian and Pakistani banks can operate in the other country. This would facilitate trade,” Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said after the meeting. India also said it will look into Pakistan’s request for easier and higher quota for visas for its businesspersons.
Mr. Sharma said he had accepted Pakistan Trade Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan’s invitation to visit the neighbouring country next month.
Mr. Khan said his “elected government” had requested India to replace the term ‘Most Favoured Nation’ (MFN) with NDMA. “There are minorities on both sides who do not desire peace between the two countries,” Mr. Khan said, when asked why this term was chosen. “They both mean the same,” he said.
Bilateral trade between the two countries is slightly more than $3 billion a year. Both sides expressed hope that trade would go up many times when NDMA is established on a reciprocal basis. For this, India needs to open up to Pakistan 614 items. Pakistan, on the other hand, needs to open up to India two lists comprising 936 and 1209 items, said the Indian officials.
The ministers agreed that both sides will convene the meetings of the technical working groups of customs, railways, banking, standards organizations and energy. A Joint Business Forum of Chief Executive Officers in different sectors which has already met twice after the incumbent Pakistan Government took office, is expected to meet again in Pakistan in a couple of weeks. The sub-groups formed by this forum are on textiles, tourism, energy, light engineering, pharmaceuticals and others.