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The Business Road to Peace

The News
Wednesday, July 06, 2011

By Laleh Habib

Despite having been on a whirlwind trip and arrived in Karachi at 4 am on the day of the conference, only to leave the same evening, Rajiv Kumar, Secretary General, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), was “extremely happy to have to come to Pakistan”.

Addressing a well-attended seminar organised by the Pakistan chapter of the India-Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IPCCI), “Pakistan-India Trade: Prospects and Challenges” held under the aegis of The Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), Mr Kumar said he had a “deep personal connection with Pakistan” and he has been “conspiring to come to Karachi for a long while”.

Besides speaking at the inaugural session on July 4, 2011, Mr Kumar also chaired the first technical session, focusing on the potential for bilateral trade as well as the current barriers — one of the three sessions of the conference that aimed at exploring the existing paradigm and framework surrounding trade between Pakistan and India, the potential to increase bilateral trade and investment, and the challenges to realising this potential.

Lengthy and detailed discussions on economics and politics were interspersed with poetry, as several delegates concluded their presentations with verses from the great poets of the region. The appreciation of the panelists and of the audience underscored the shared literary traditions of Pakistan and India, the commonalities between the people of the two countries, and our innate affinity for one another.

The conference concluded with a unanimous declaration asserting that increased bilateral trade and investment would be hugely — and equitably — beneficial to both Pakistan and India. Delegates outlined the tremendous potential for trade; by one estimate, if trade between the two countries were to be facilitated, it could easily reach six billion dollars. Furthermore, the benefits of trade would permeate all levels of society. ‘Economic diplomacy’
can diffuse existing political tensions and help build trust between the two neighbours.
Economic integration and cooperation will also facilitate poverty alleviation and job creation in both countries. The ‘Asian Century’, as Tariq Puri argued, will only be possible if there is economic integration and peace between India and Pakistan.

Delegates stressed the need to give ascendency to economic issues, which, in turn, can facilitate the resolution of political and social matters. They voiced their commitment to furthering trade between the two countries. There was general agreement that the Mumbai attack exacerbated this general mistrust between the two countries and halted trade. Several delegates spoke in support of Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s statement that the composite dialogue process should have continued even after the attacks.

Delegates detailed the obstacles to bilateral trade and investment as well as the hurdles they personally face in the course of their work. The cumbersome visa process is one of the biggest roadblocks to increased economic integration. Then there are the prohibitive legislative and bureaucratic frameworks surrounding trade, including non-tariff boundaries and the fact that
Pakistan had yet to grant India MFN status.

“India and Pakistan should continue the dialogue to resolve core political issues,” said Dr Ishrat Husain, Dean and Director of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) and Former Governor of the State Bank, in his keynote address. In the meantime, “they should start by focusing on non-political constraints that will promote bilateral trade.” As he pointed out, “all studies on India-Pakistan trade have so far demonstrated that the realisation of constraints in the way of bilateral trade would benefit both countries.”

Other eminent speakers included Secretary Commerce Zafar Mehmood, S M Muneer, President, India-Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Former Secretary, Ministry of Commerce Tasneem M Noorani, Salma Ahmed, President of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WCCI) and Tariq Iqbal Puri, Chief Executive, Trade Development Authority of
Pakistan.

The seminar was attended by Pakistani and Indian experts across the economic spectrum; entrepreneurs and industrialists, policymakers, diplomats, economists, and prominent members of civil society, including Bashir Ali Muhammad, Chairman Gul Ahmad Textile Mills, Sardar Yaseen Malik, Chairman Hilton Pharma, and others.

The speakers explored and outlined a series of recommendations to facilitate trade and economic integration between the two countries. It was suggested that a joint working group to debate on the visa issue should be formed. Delegates argued for issuing multi-city, long-term visas for businessmen. They also argued that instead of a positive list, the two countries should
work towards creating a negative list.

Indian industrialist Pardeep Seghal argued that even if the regulations around bilateral trade remain unchanged, “the actual volume of trade can be substantially increased if infrastructure were to be improved. The lack of warehouses at the Wagah Border and the dilapidated railway system, for instance, are a huge obstacle to trade between the two countries.”

Khurram Sayeed, Executive Member of India-Paki CCI, suggested creating an ‘Aman’ pipeline between India and Pakistan to facilitate trade in petroleum. Some of the other recommendations included setting up Indian banks in Pakistan and vice versa, harmonising legal regulations between the two countries, and establishing organisation to facilitate trade.

To conclude, Syed Masood Alam Rizvi, Secretary General of FPCCI compiled and presented the recommendations of the delegates, to be presented to the relevant government agencies.

The writer is Coordinator, Aman ki Asha

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