India should get ‘most favoured nation’ status: Former Pakistan FM (Lead)

May 18th, 2010 - 8:17 pm ICT by IANS  

By James Jose
New Delhi, May 18 (IANS) If Pakistani politicians have a problem in calling India “most favoured nation”, which has become an impediment in finalising the trade pact, they should change the nomenclature and let commerce progress, says former Pakistan finance minister Shahid Javed Burki.

“Economically it is a very wrong decision (not to give India MFN status). It was taken for political reasons. So to hell with it: Change the thing and don’t call it ‘most-favoured nation’,” said Burki, who is here for a two-day business conference on India-Pakistan trade relations that started Tuesday.

“Americans did it with respect to China and Pakistan should do it with respect to India,” Burki, an Oxford- and Harvard-educated economist who also served as the vice president of the World Bank, told IANS in an interview.

India had granted MFN status to Pakistan way back in 1995-96.

In international trade relations, countries extend to each other the most-favoured nation status to boost their bilateral engagement and it typically entails tariff concessions and quotas for the merchandise exports from their territories.

According to Burki, the grant of such a status will go a long way in boosting sentiments between the industries of the two sides and remove the “bad blood” that may exist in the psyche of the people of the two countries.

Trade between the two countries grew from $251 million in 2000-01 to $2.3 billion in 2007-08, but dropped 19 percent to $1.81 billion in 2008-09.

Unofficially, however, there is a large volume of exports by India to Pakistan, which is routed through the Gulf countries and Singapore.

According to the former finance minister, since India and Pakistan share common borders, the logical step should be to ease barriers to trade, such as removal of travel restrictions on the businesses of the two sides and easier visas.

“It does take an effort to get a visa and come to India,” he said, adding the same holds true for Indians visiting Pakistan.

“I am now an American citizen. But because I am of Pakistani origin, it takes me three months. So I had stopped coming to India,” said the 72-year-old economist, who was born at Simla in India, but migrated to Rawalpindi in Pakistan after partition in 1947.

“I once told (former) President (Pervez) Musharraf: ‘Do away with visas for Indians. Let’s see the reaction. There will be no problem’. But that did not happen. Pride came in the way,” added the soft-spoken civil servant-turned diplomat, who was also a Rhodes Scholar at Harvard.

The two-day meet, which has drawn 75 business leaders from Pakistan, is hosted jointly by the Confederation of Indian Industry, the Pakistan-India CEOs Business Forum and two media groups of south Asia — The Times of India and Jang of Pakistan.

(James Jose can be reached at james.jose@ians.in and biz@ians.in)

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