Chandigarh: Economic co-operation between India and Pakistan is progressing at a “satisfactory pace” and bilateral trade between the two countries has crossed $1.98 billion, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said.
“Bilateral trade has crossed $1.98 billion now. Informal trade is estimated to be even higher,” Qureshi said, delivering his address at an international conference on “Cooperative Development, Peace and Security in South Asia”, organised by the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) here.
Qureshi said the Commerce Secretaries of the two countries will be meeting soon for talks on “promoting economic cooperation” under the Composite Dialogue process.
He said the idea of agricultural co-operation and rural development, in particular, is of “considerable importance for countries in South Asia”.
“In both, Pakistan and India, rapid population rise has been accompanied by slow growth in agricultural productivity. This has resulted in inequalities in rural areas and between the rural and urban regions. This has serious implications for stability and development,” he warned.
Qureshi said the key factors “hindering growth” in agriculture in both the countries included low productivity, lack of adequate access to water, inadequate infrastructure, sub-standard public service delivery, and lack of direct access to market by our farmers.
“In addition, environmental issues, including water scarcity and changing weather cycles, have compounded the mounting challenges,” he noted.
Qureshi said food security has emerged as a “major challenge” to the Governments, farmers, agri-scientists, economists and consumers.
“Millions of people are at risk of falling below the poverty line. Poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease accentuate this vicious cycle,” he pointed out.
He said though these challenges have been studied and “plausible solutions” offered, however, owing to the “traditional mindset in our rural areas, it has been difficult to bring about a significant change at the required pace”.
“The contemporary challenges, in particular climate change and food insecurity, require a drastic re-orientation of our traditional agricultural patterns,” he said, adding “we need to think innovatively and work cooperatively”.
“This can be done by a right mix of policy incentives supported by investments in agriculture. We should improve the asset position of the rural poor, make small-holder farming more productive, competitive and sustainable and invest in rural non-farm economy,” he suggested.
He said that in the “larger context of turning challenges into opportunities”, India and Pakistan can learn from each other’s experiences and good practices for “our common good”.
Qureshi further said that a co-operative relationship between farmers and agriculture-related institutes of the two countries in the fields of research, education, and agriculture extension, can be mutually beneficial.
He also invited CRRID and the farmers’ body of his country, the Farmers Association of Pakistan, to work together to identify possible areas for economic and commercial co-operation between two countries, focusing on agriculture.
“Besides sharing information, knowledge and experiences, we could also explore the possibility of transfer of technology and capacity building through developing institutional linkages. We should also expeditiously consider visa liberalisation for the professionals,” he said.