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India-Pakistan trade talks this week

By IANS

New Delhi : India and Pakistan will try to add much-needed economic muscle to their bilateral ties when commerce secretaries of the two countries hold two-day talks from Tuesday to diversify the trade basket and resolve issues that stand in the way of closer economic engagement.

A 12-member delegation from Pakistan, led by Commerce Secretary Syed Asif Ali Shah, will arrive here July 30 to hold the talks – part of the fourth round of the composite dialogue – that will focus on easing of trade restrictions, joint patent registration of basmati rice, the opening of bank branches in each other's country and export of cement by Pakistan to India.

The Indian side will be led by Commerce Secretary G.K. Pillai. The talks will be followed by a meeting of the joint study group on trade on Aug 2.

Issues related to the transportation of goods and transit trade, establishing linkages between capital markets, and liberalising the visa regime for travelling businessmen will also be discussed, official sources said.

The two sides are also expected to discuss holding trade exhibitions for showcasing their products.

The issue of including cement in bilateral trade will figure prominently in the talks. Pakistan had recently shown interest in supplying cement to India after countervailing duty and additional customs duty were cut.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz took up the issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the SAARC summit here in April. Procedural delays, including a tortuous Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) certification process, are currently blocking cement export from Pakistan.

India is likely to again press Pakistan for opening overland routes to Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics – a proposal for which Pakistan has not shown much enthusiasm because of its strategic interests in that region.

Pakistan has also yet to reciprocate and accord the Most Favoured Nation status to India.

Pakistan has sought to link the enhancement of trade relations with a resolution of the Kashmir issue – a position that has hindered the growth of trade and thwarted the realisation of the commercial potential of the relationship and dividends it can bring for the peace process between the two countries.

Despite differences in approach, bilateral trade has grown to $1.5 billion this year.