India, Pakistan begin to ‘cement’ ties

May 21st, 2008 - 2:19 pm ICT by admin  

By Manish Chand
Islamabad, May 21 (IANS) “See how times have changed; now it’s the Pakistan army that is helping to build India!” This witty one-liner, referring to Pakistani company Fauji Cement that exports cement to India, can often be heard in business and diplomatic circles here as the two countries cement trade ties as part of their growing rapprochement. Fauji Cement, one of the 15 Pakistani companies registered as exporters with Indian authorities, is owned by the Fauji Foundation, a trust managed by the army which channels profits from commercial ventures into welfare programmes for ex-servicemen.

India, which is witnessing a huge building boom, exported 240,000 metric tonnes of cement from Pakistan last year.

“We see a continuing surge in demand for Pakistani cement from India. We are hopeful and positive about expanding trade with our neighbouring country India,” Taraiq Adam, export sales manager at Pakistan Cement Company, told IANS.

“There are some logistical issues. But we are hopeful of solving them soon,” said Adam, whose company is one of the leading Pakistani exporters of cement to India.

“Pakistan is very positive about expanding trade with India. The mood among the business community is upbeat,” said Yousuf Nazar, an economist who formerly handled global equity portfolio for Citigroup.

Nazar, however, advocates “a gradual incremental liberalisation of trade regime” as there are fears in Pakistan that bigger Indian businesses can swamp local industry.

As India and Pakistan launch more cross-border bus services and continue talks to bridge trust over outstanding issues like Kashmir, Nazar pointed out that the economic relationship can only grow in the future.

‘Cement ties’ figured in delegation-level talks between India’s Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and his Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir here Tuesday, an Indian official told IANS.

The two top officials reviewed the progress in different areas in the fourth round of composite dialogue, that also included trade and economic cooperation.

Officials of the two countries met last month to discuss logistical issues like the availability of more railway wagons on the Punjab border and more ship containers on the Mumbai-Karachi route that will enable more Pakistani cement to be transported to India quickly.

Cement is not the only item on the larger agenda of expanding economic and trade ties — India is already exporting tea to Pakistan, and chemicals and dyes form one of the leading Indian export items to Pakistan.

“There is a huge potential for bilateral cooperation in agriculture and food grains,” said Nazar.

India is pushing to make expanded trade ties the centrepiece of its engagement with Pakistan and feels that it will prove to be a crucial confidence-building measure that will help in the full normalisation of relations.

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) has said in a recent report that the two sides can expand their two-way trade to over $5 billion by 2010. Right now, India’s trade with its next-door neighbour Pakistan is not even $2 billion.

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