LAHORE: Anand Sharma created history on Monday when he became first Indian commerce minister to travel to Pakistan to sign three agreements for liberalisation of bilateral trade.“India is committed to walk along with you (Pakistan) on the road to peace and prosperity for the future generation,” asserted Sharma, who walked into Pakistan through the Wagah-Attari border at the head of a large delegation of 120 leading businessmen for a three-day visit.
He acknowledged the presence of a similar determination on the part of Islamabad to improve economic and trade relations with New Delhi.
He said a roadmap had been evolved for normalising bilateral trade and it was the wish and commitment of the governments on both sides of the divide to implement it.
“The hurdles to free trade between Pakistan and India are being removed through sustained dialogue as continuous interaction has helped in bridging the differences between the two sides enabling India to organise its first-ever trade show in Pakistan,” he said.
“We cannot change history and we cannot change geography but we can co-exist and hold (each other's) hands for our people,” the Indian commerce minister told a gathering of Pakistani and Indian businessmen at the closing of the three-day exhibition of Indian products at the Lahore Expo Centre.
“This generation of leadership of both the countries has the duty to pass on hope, peace and prosperity to the next generation. We should act in a way that the next generation remembers us as people with maturity and vision,” he said.
Speaking of the progress made so far on normalisation of bilateral trade since the resumption of commerce secretary in April after a break of three years over Mumbai terror attacks, he was hopeful that the two countries would be able to move forward faster this year than last year.
He said that a second gate at Wagah-Attari would be ready for trade traffic by April 30 to facilitate trade between the two sides.
Mr Sharma said there was no limit to the opportunities for expanding bilateral economic and trade cooperation between Pakistan and India for bringing about prosperity and growth in the region. “We need to unleash this potential for the future of our people,” he said.
“Both the countries have decided to resolve their bilateral issues through dialogue,” he said in answer to a question about disputes over Kashmir and water. In answer to another question on hurdles between liberalisation of bilateral trade, he said they were discussing every issue including non-tariff barriers.
Speaking at the closing of the Indian exhibition, Makhdoom Amin Fahim was hopeful that the issues hampering trade with India would be resolved soon.
“It is a great opportunity for the two countries to resolve their trade related issues through talks. The process of enhancing bilateral trade started after his visit to India will be expedited after the follow-up visit by Mr Sharma,” he said in answer to a question at Wagah.
“Our target is to move forward fast to achieve the targets in minimum possible time,” he said.
But he indicated that Pakistan's switching over to a negative list of items from the current positive list and implementation of MFN status for India would take some time.
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