U.S. for increase in Indo-Pak. trade

NEW DELHI NOV. 7. Citing Afghanistan, the United States today pressed for increased trade and economic interaction between India and Pakistan, saying that expanded regional trade in the area would be advantageous for the reconstruction of the war-ravaged country.

The visiting U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economics and Business Affairs, Alan Larson, told presspersons that intra-regional trade in this part of the world was `very low' and that he had discussed this point with the Finance Minister, Jaswant Singh, during their meeting here today. Mr. Larson visited Afghanistan and Pakistan before arriving in India.

Asked whether the U.S. would `push' Pakistan into facilitating greater trade and economic exchanges with India, Mr. Larson said, "I detected in my talks in Pakistan the realisation of big benefits in increased trading in the region. They are discussing some transit arrangement with Afghanistan.''

He said the people of Afghanistan wanted to see an expansion of regional trade and "we have been exploring the reactions we have had here. We were very encouraged to see the positive reaction here.''

About Indo-U.S. trade and economic relations, the Under Secretary said he had carried a letter from Lawrence Lindsay, Adviser to the U.S. President on Economic Policy, for the Prime Minister's Principal Secretary, Brajesh Mishra. Without disclosing the contents of the letter, he said the U.S. wanted to get the best out of the continuing bilateral economic dialogue. "We feel the business communities in the two countries should take the lead in this matter and we want the two Governments to play the role of facilitators. There are strong trade and economic relations right now between the two countries and we feel they could be made more stronger,'' Mr. Larson said.

India and the U.S. had very strong-shared interests in various economic fields, including matters concerning the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and these could be pursued vigorously, he said. Listing some of the areas of shared interests, he mentioned agriculture and biotechnology where a large scope existed for expanded cooperation, energy security and tackling funding of terrorism and money laundering.

Asked about the U.S. perception on some of the private sector power projects in India promoted by U.S. companies, Mr. Larson said, "I am encouraged that the Government is trying to resolve the problems being faced by some independent power producers. But the focus of the dialogue is on cooperation in the future.''

Asked specifically about the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline, he said the matter had come up during his conversation with Mr. Singh. "The pipeline issue came up at each of my stops. But these matters take a lot of time as pipelines have commercial and political aspects. Such projects fructify once the commercial aspects are secured,'' he said.

Mr. Larson's visit was the first of the series of high-profile visits from the U.S. on trade and economic matters. Next week, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Commerce, Kenneth Juster, is scheduled, followed by a visit by the U.S. Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neil.

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