Good things happening in Indo-Pak relations, says Humayun Akhtar Khan

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G. Srinivasan

New Delhi, March 19

PAKISTAN feels that "good things are happening" with India in the bilateral relations as "political and non-political issues are moving in tandem and only through the continuation of this process further progress could be achieved".

Stating this in an interview to Business Line here, the Pakistan Commerce Minister, Mr Humayun Akhtar Khan, who was here for the two-day G-20 meeting that ended on Saturday, said, "we are moving in the right direction. Specific issues are being discussed and there is a good progress. We are also evaluating what are the areas of interest to both the countries."

Asked about the continued denial of the most-favoured nation (MFN) status to India by Pakistan, Mr Khan said, "If there is a sustained political dialogue then we are ready to talk of other issues. We are not prepared to talk of non-political issues in isolation. We have to note that a composite dialogue is going on where the core political issues are being discussed and the composite dialogue includes trade too. Pakistan has been a signatory to the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement framework and we expect early talks."

Stating that one thing is "interesting" in the bilateral relationship, he said despite the fact that India has given MFN status to Pakistan and Pakistan has not, the bilateral trade has doubled in the last few years and "the balance is squarely in favour of India and continues to increase in favour of India."

He said that Pakistan and India have formulated a Study Group at the Commerce Secretary level which is looking at the bilateral relationship. "We have given some very specific observations to the Indian Government with respect to what we think are the obstacles in the way of Pakistani exporters these could be tariff complexities, specific tariffs, problems at the ports and problems in respect of the availability of trade-related information from India," he said.

He said "now that very specific observations have been made, we hope that a level playing field can be created where the Indian regime is as free as Pakistani regime, apart from the fact that we have a positive list for India for imports. In all other respects, the Pakistani regime in my opinion is much more non-obstructive than Indian regime."

He, however, hastened to add, "A positive thing is that our observations have been there and they have been looked at by India".

When he was asked if these concerns were adequately addressed would Pakistan give the MFN status, the Minister said, "Let us not jump the gun. There is a positive list under which several commodities could be traded and it all really depends on how you look at the harmonised system of four-digit, six-digit and eight-digit. We trade with India almost 25 per cent of our total tariff regime. But it is a continuous process. As our exporters ask us, we continue to look at positive list."

He said that "let us now focus on the Study Group. We are now talking to India on what we think are the obstacles on the way. If India can respond positively that will be a major step forward."

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 20, 2005)
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