Home / News / World /  Bank tie-ups, new visa  pact important: Pakistan

New Delhi: Pakistan may seek implementation of a liberalized visa regime with India and close ties between banks from the two countries in return for allowing greater access to its market for Indian products when Pakistan trade minister Khurram Dastgir Khan meets India’s trade minister Anand Sharma on Saturday.

The current visa regime and the absence of a banking relationship are the biggest non-tariff barriers for trade, said Khan, who is in India for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) business leaders conclave .

“The truth is the greatest non-tariff barrier has nothing to do with trade at all, which is the visa regime," he said at a conference organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry. “Because of this, businessmen of one country cannot travel to the other country and are unable to assess first hand the economic opportunities that exist in the other country. So it is not only about cutting the tariff lines but also about facilitating the banking relationship between the two countries."

On whether more goods could be allowed to be traded through the land route between the two countries, Khan said: “We will see how the next round of negotiations go."

A joint statement is expected after the meeting between the two ministers on Saturday, a commerce ministry official said, on condition of anonymity.

Stepping up the pressure on Pakistan in the wake of the killing of two Indian soldiers in Kashmir by Pakistani troopers in November, India put on hold the implementation of a liberalized visa pact as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned that it could not be “business as usual" with the neighbouring country.

The visa pact signed in September was aimed at strengthening business links and people-to-people ties, and was one of the concrete outcomes of a peace process relaunched in February 2011 following the 2008 terror attack on Mumbai. Trade was seen as the main driver of the renewed process—which India was given to understand had the Pakistan army’s backing—with both sides announcing many steps to boost commerce.

Khan said both countries should try to provide greater market access to each other while keeping in mind their sensitivities. India provided the most-favoured nation (MFN) status to Pakistan in 1996; Pakistan only recently migrated to a ‘negative list’ comprising items that are prohibited from being imported from India; it earlier had in place a ‘positive list’ of 1,946 items that could be imported from India. Pakistan missed a December 2012 deadline to provide MFN status to India.

As the MFN nomenclature is controversial in the local language in Pakistan, it has now decided to name it non-discriminatory market access, which would mean abolition of the negative list of trade except for a few sensitive items. Khan said Pakistan was working towards giving non-discriminatory market access to India, “which will happen in not too distant future."

Later, inaugurating the Saarc business leaders conference organized by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, trade minister Sharma announced Indian government’s support for a liberalized regional visa regime and more than doubling the number of business visa exemption stickers from the current 200 to 500.

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