India, Pakistan to double bilateral trade, liberalise visa regime


New Delhi: Pushing their trade diplomacy amid differences over a host of issues like cross-border terror, India and Pakistan Wednesday agreed to jointly double bilateral trade to $6 billion annually and decided to liberalize their visa regime for businessmen of both countries.

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“The issue of multiple entry visas was discussed and the decision is expected soon,” Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said while addressing a press conference after talks with his Pakistani counterpart Amin Fahim.

The new business visa regime would allow multiple entries and could be valid for a period up to one year, Sharma said. According to a joint statement issued after the meeting, the two countries have agreed to conclude issue of liberalising business visas by this year.

The ministers expressed hope that a liberal visa regime would rapidly expand and strengthen bilateral economic and business relations.

“A more secure regional environment would progressively help both countries to keep liberalising the visa arrangements for business people,” a joint statement said.

The business communities of both the countries have been demanding liberalization of the visa regime and the move is likely to come as a big relief for them.

“More business visas should be stamped to facilitate stronger trade ties between the two countries,” DHL Express vice president (South Asia) Ramesh Natarajan had said during a business meeting in Mumbai Tuesday.

Trade promotion bodies of India and Pakistan also signed an agreement to facilitate the flow of bilateral trade.

The India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) and Trade Promotion Authority of Pakistan signed a memorandum of understanding here in the presence of the trade ministers of both countries.

“The agreement is aimed to facilitate bilateral trade,” Anand Sharma said.

The two organisations will organise road shows and trade fairs and suggest measures to promote trade. The role of the two bodies is important as the two countries target to increase their trade to $6 billion in three years, from the current $2.7 billion.

In a joint statement, released after the official level bilateral talks between Sharma and Fahim here, both sides said that India and Pakistan were entering a new phase of full normalisation of bilateral trade relations which boded well for enhancing mutual trust and understanding.

It was also decided that the commerce secretaries of the two nations would meet in November to take forward what had been agreed at the talks.

The two ministers fully reaffirmed their commitment for normalised commercial links between both countries which would strengthen the bilateral relationship and build the bridges of friendship, trust and understanding for the mutual benefit of their people and promotion of prosperity in South Asia.

The two ministers agreed their countries would cooperate for a high ambition of preferential trade relations under the framework of the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA). They agreed that all mutual obligations contracted under SAFTA would be implemented with full sincerity.

The statement said when the commerce secretaries of the two countries meet, they would lay down specific timelines to normalise all trade relationships, including dismantling of all non-tariff barriers. Full implementation of SAFTA obligations was also mandated.

Both ministers agreed to further promote greater intra-regional connectivity through road, rail, shipping and air. They affirmed that both countries would cooperate and work in close coordination at multilateral forum such as WTO and SAARC, to support each other to strengthen their economies.

The meeting between the commerce ministers of India and Pakistan is part of the normalization of relations between the two counties, a process that started in Thimphu in February this year leading up to talks between the foreign ministers of the two countries in July this year.

The talks took place against the backdrop of the US’ ties with Pakistan plunging to a new low amid the US’ condemnation of Pakistan’s use of using terrorism as an instrument of policy and the links between the Haqqani network and Pakistan’s spy agency in Afghanistan.