ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and India will resume secretary-level trade talks in New Delhi on Jan 14.
The meeting, being held after a gap of 16 months, will only maintain the ‘momentum of talks’ as part of the composite dialogue process, because substantive talks between the two countries will only be held after general elections in India. The term of Lok Sabha will end on May 31.
The meeting starting on Tuesday is likely to agree on fresh timelines for implementing the roadmap for removing bottlenecks in trade liberalisation. The two countries failed to follow an earlier roadmap, which called for phasing out the negative list by Dec 31, 2012.
Besides, Minister of State for Commerce Khurram Dastgir Khan will arrive in New Delhi on Jan 16 to attend the Saarc Business Conclave starting the next day. Mr Khan is expected to meet his Indian counterpart on the sidelines of the conclave.
After the secretary-level meeting, the two ministers are likely to announce new timelines for continuation of trade liberalisation talks.
Diplomatic sources have described the meeting as a ‘starter’ because it may not have political support to make any breakthrough on phasing out the negative list and non-tariff barriers.
Three issues are crucial for complete liberalisation of trade between India and Pakistan – opening of the Wagah border for importing more than 6,000 items from India as against the current 137, 24-hour clearance facility of goods at Wagah and containerisation of cargo. These 6,000 items are already importable through seaports.
An official said the government had decided in principle to agree on these issues, but it would be linked to reciprocal responses from India. If a fresh agreement is reached on trade through Wagah, he said, India would have to reduce its sensitive list by 30 per cent for Pakistan and other South Asian countries.
The items placed on the sensitive list of Safta (South Asian Free Trade Area) cannot be considered for duty reduction. The removal of items from the list will enhance market access for Pakistani products.
Before the Indian elections, the official said, progress could be made only on these issues in the next few months. But the major issue of phasing out the negative list of 1,209 items would remain untouched pending progress on other issues, he added.
The ministry of commerce has come up with a new definition of most-favoured nation status for India as it has replaced it with 'Non-Discriminatory Access (NDA)’, which will have lesser political implication. On the issue of NDA, the source said that Pakistani ministry of commerce would approach the stakeholders after making progress on phasing out of the negative list.
Pakistan and India signed three agreements in 2012 for removing bottlenecks for facilitating trade, but they are yet to be implemented.