Punjab-based traders on Tuesday sought a check on Line of Control (LoC) trade at Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot routes, alleging misuse of the duty-free status of these routes and hampering trade at the Attari-Wagah border.

Besides, they also sought creation of additional infrastructure at Attari border to handle more cargo and extension in timing for carrying out trade at Attari-Wagah land route to give a fillip to bilateral trade.

A group of exporters, led by Amritsar Exporters Chamber of Commerce raised these demands during a brief meeting with Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar in Amritsar.

Mr. Khullar would meet his counterpart Zafar Mehmood in Islamabad on April 27 and 28 in a bid to give a push to bilateral trade ties between the two sides.

“We pointed out in the meeting with (Rahul) Khullar that our trade is suffering because of misuse of the duty-free status given to Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot trade routes,” Amritsar Exporters Chamber of Commerce vice-pesident Rajdeep Uppal told PTI over the phone.

“We requested him to ensure bilateral trade of only Kashmiri items as it was mandated while opening of the trade,” Mr. Uppal added.

LoC duty-free trade at Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot routes (between the two sides of divided Kashmir) started in October, 2008.

Exporters said unscrupulous traders from here are importing and exporting several items under the garb of Kashmiri origin through these duty-free routes, which have hit trade at Attari-Wagah route.

“For example traders are procuring red chillies from Andhra Pradesh and labelling it as Kashmir Spices and then exporting it to Pakistan. As a result of it, we are losing our export business in Pakistan,” he said.

Traders also pointed out duty free import of dry fruits like dates, raisins have also taken a toll on their business.

“For example, we are paying duty of Rs. 35 per kg on import of dates via Attari-Wagah land route but there is no duty on import from LoC trade route. Then in such a situation how can we sustain our businesses here,” Amritsar-based importer Mukesh Sindhwani said.

India imports dry fruits and cement from Pakistan and exports perishable commodities such as onion, potato, tomato, garlic, livestock, cotton, spices and maize through the Attari-Wagah route.

Traders also urged the Commerce Secretary to ask his counterpart in Pakistan to reduce import duties on potato and onion to boost vegetable export from here.

Punjab traders also sought early operationalisation of Integrated Check Post, which would be able to handle more cargo at land route.

Currently, 150 trucks per day are being handled at Attari and after setting up of ICP, the number of trucks handled here is expected to go up to 600.

“We have also asked Mr. Khullar to impress upon his counterpart to add additional cargo handling capacity at Wagah border in Pakistan which is necessary to boost trade,” Mr. Uppal said.

Traders also sought enhancement in timing for conducting trade. “We want trade should be conducted for at least 12 hours a day against five hours at present,” he said. - PTI