New Delhi - It seems the Indian government is once again divided whether to continue the trade normalisation dialogue with Pakistan with both the ministries of commerce and industry and external affairs being at loggerheads over the issue, even as Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Pakistan Minister of State for Commerce and Textile Khurram Dastagir Khan on the sidelines of the SAARC Business Leaders Conclave to be held today (Thursday), reported Indian newspaper Business Standard on Wednesday.
The bilateral meeting between both ministers was preceded by the commerce secretary-level talks that got underway in New Delhi Wednesday ‘without any concrete results’ on the road ahead.
It is learnt Indian Commerce Secretary SR Rao had almost a three-hour long meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Qasim M Niaz but both sides did not arrive at any specific outcome, sources told Business Standard.
The ministry of commerce and industry had been brandishing the meeting as “resumption of the trade dialogue” that started in April 2011 but ever since has hit several hurdles due to the age-old political and military tensions between both the neighbours. However, it is learnt that the ministry of external affairs (MEA) has asked commerce ministry to underplay the matter and not project the meeting as dialogue resumption resulting in a war of words of sorts.
On the other hand, the commerce ministry is not leaving any stone unturned to make the dialogue successful. Sharma, it is learnt, is fighting against all odds to obtain the MFN status, which will add another feather in his cap. But MEA believes trade talks cannot proceed without a “peaceful environment in the background of a series of ceasefire violations across the Line of Control (LoC),” sources added.
Trade talks had reached a hiatus since early 2013 when incidents of military-standoff across the LoC started coming to light. It seems matters got worse with the recent emergence of a mysterious video that allegedly showed beheading of an Indian soldier in January last year.
Earlier this week, army chief Bikram Singh said India will not shy away from taking retaliatory steps if Pakistan breaks the ceasefire norms across the border. He even referred to the violations as ‘mini war’.
Recently, Syed Akbaruddin, joint secretary and spokesperson, MEA clearly stated that meeting between both sides “cannot be construed as a resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue process.” He also said that the govt is waiting for Pakistan to implement the commitment made by them on September 2012, when both commerce secretaries last met, on allowing greater flow of goods along the Attari-Wagha border.
Market access important than MFN: Dastagir
In an interview with Hindu, Pakistan State Minister for Commerce and Textiles Khurram Dastagir Khan said while the grant of MFN status may take some time, Pakistan wants more market access in India.
Replying to a question, he said “There is a sense that India, which gave MFN to Pakistan in 1996, did not give it market access. These two go together unfortunately. Pakistan on the other hand might not have given MFN to India but has given substantial market access and this has now been reflected in our trade figures. The trade balance has, in fact, increased manifold in favour of India. Pakistan’s exports last year were $327.496 million while Pakistan’s imports from India totalled $1809.867.
“MFN is a designation and a technical term WTO and India can ask for, but we have been talking to the Indian government to say let’s call it non-discriminatory access (NDA), or as some call it, non-discriminatory market access. NDA is good enough, it’s a more useful and workable term.
“In Pakistan there are certain sectors that have reservations on trading with India. Agriculture is one of them. The others are pharmaceutical, auto parts and automobiles, the synthetic fibre-based clothing or fabric. We have to find some way ultimately — the NDA is something we are going towards and I don’t think it will take long, the Nawaz Sharif government is keen and the Indian government is also talking about it.”