India-Pakistan trade set to increase from $2.6 billion to $8 billion in two years

The Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Attari is scheduled to become operational for trade across the India-Pakistan border on the Punjabi New Year's Day, Baisakhi, on April 13.

At present, about 200 trucks cross the border daily with restricted merchandise that accounts for about Rs. 1,500 crore of annual business. A study released by the Assocham said that with the ICP becoming operational and Pakistan granting the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India, the annual bilateral trade between the two countries would increase from $2.6 billion to $8 billion within the next two years.

More in the offing

Though India and Pakistan had decided to set up 13 such facilities, the Attari ICP will be the first to become operational. Located about 30 km from Amritsar, it has been set up on an area of 130 acres at an overall cost of Rs. 120 crore. It will house state-of-the-art facilities to deal with security, customs and immigrations requirements for passenger and cargo traffic through rail and road.

The Attari ICP is located on the international border along the historic GT road that was reconstructed in the 16th century by the Afghan ruler, Sher Shah Suri, to connect Bengal with Peshawar. Since the Radcliffe line was drawn in 1947, this route has hardly been used for commerce and trade.

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, captains of trade and industry, and a host of dignitaries are expected to reach Attari for the inauguration. Simultaneously, on Pakistan's side, Commerce Minister and Chief Minister of West Punjab, will inaugurate its ICP at Wagah.

Change economic profile

Punjab's Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal reiterated that the Union government should also open up Fazilka and Hussainewala borders in Ferozepur district with Pakistan, which he said, would change the economic profile of the border region.

Mr. Badal said the business community of Punjab had pinned a lot of hopes on Attari-Wagah becoming the gateway for trade with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian countries. However, the information that only 137 items would be allowed has come as a dampener. He recalled that Punjab, especially the border areas of the State, had suffered owing to lack of commercial activity along this border since 1947.

Negative list

The Chairman of the Punjab Committee of the PHD Chamber, Rajiv Bali, favoured a more relaxed visa policy, which should remove “one of the biggest impediments” in the progress of bilateral ties. He said that last month Pakistan notified its negative list, which meant that, barring 1,209 items, India could export all products. Subsequently, Islamabad announced that it would allow import of only 137 items.

However, an Assocham release, quoting its president Rajkumar Dhoot, said Pakistan had committed to bury the negative list by the year-end to comply with WTO stipulations.

He said that nearly 6,000 items could then be exported to Pakistan against the existing less than 2,000.