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Saturday, 5 November 2011

India says better trade with Pakistan to take ‘some time’ | Business | DAWN.COM

A paramilitary soldier stands guard as a truck crosses into Pakistan from India, at the Wagah border, November 4, 2011. — Photo by Reuters

NEW DELHI: New Delhi played down on Saturday confusion about whether Pakistan was granting India most favoured trading nation status, saying such a step “could take some time”.

Earlier in the week, Pakistan’s cabinet announced it had approved a proposal giving India the status of “most favoured nation” in a move towards normalising trade relations between the two rivals.

The Pakistan cabinet’s decision was seen as a breakthrough in thawing relations between the South Asian neighbours who have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.

But later Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was quoted by Pakistani media as saying the commerce ministry had only been tasked by the cabinet to move forward on the issue in bilateral trade negotiations.

Indian media reports said Pakistan was backtracking on granting India most favoured nation (MFN) status.

But on Saturday, Indian foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai urged patience.

“According to the information available through the Pakistan government, the cabinet has approved the process of normalisation of trade relations of which most favoured nation is a part,” Mathai told reporters in New Delhi.

“The actual implementation would be a culmination of the normalisation process which could take some time,” he said.

Senior Pakistani government officials told AFP that Islamabad had decided “in principle” to give MFN status to India.

While formal trade between the two most populous and largest economies in South Asia is a paltry $2.7 billion annually, unregulated trade, much of it routed through third countries, is estimated at $10 billion.

In September, Indian and Pakistan agreed to work harder at opening up their markets to each other, pledging to more than double trade within three years to $6 billion.

India’s Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said he would lead a trade delegation to Islamabad next February at the invitation of Makhdoom Amin Fahim.

Both governments “are committed to normalisation of trade relations,” said Fahim, whose five-day visit to India at the head of a large business delegation is the first by a commerce minister to the country in 35 years.

Pakistan said on Friday it was hoping for significant progress on normalising trade relations with India at talks in New Delhi later this month.

“We are extremely hopeful that there will be a major breakthrough in the next round of commerce secretaries’ meetings on November 14-15 in Delhi,” Zafar Mahmood, the top civil servant at the commerce ministry, told reporters.

“We will finalise all the details in that meeting,” Mahmood added.

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