‘Trade can lead to peace between India, Pakistan’

February 15th, 2012 - 8:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Feb 15 (IANS) Increased trade and economic engagements can bring long-lasting peace between India and Pakistan, whose relations have been marred for decades by a host of issues including Kashmir and terrorism, trade ministers and business leaders of the two countries said Wednesday.

Talking to media persons on the sidelines of a business meeting here, India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said India was keen to boost trade with Pakistan despite political differences.

“We have issues with other neighbouring countries as well. Today China is India’s largest trading partner so why can’t Pakistan and India engage with each other for bringing prosperity and economic development. We are for that,” he said.

Sharma, who is leading a high-level business delegation on a four-day visit to Pakistan, said Indian government was “serious” and “sincere” in resolving all issues with Pakistan.

“We are serious and sincere in deepening economic engagements with Pakistan. We have come here with an open mind and open heart,” said Sharma.

Pakistan’s Commerce Minister Makhdoom Mohammad Amin Fahim said the Pakistani government was taking steps to remove hurdles that are affecting the movements of trade and investments between the two countries.

“We have prepared a roadmap. A roadmap that we are going to have a very good business and economic relations,” said Fahim.

After a bilateral meeting in September last year, trade ministers of India and Pakistan had set a target to increase bilateral trade to $6 billion in three years from $2.7 billion recorded in 2010-11.

“It’s not peace that leads to trade but it’s trade that leads to peace,” said R.V. Kanoria, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci).

Kanoria, who is part of over 120-member Indian business delegation, said business communities of both the countries have very high expectations from the political leadership to ease norms to facilitate the flow of bilateral trade and investments.

As per a recent Ficci study, bilateral trade of India and Pakistan could reach $10 billion if trade through third countries like Dubai, Singapore and Central Asian countries is channelised into direct exchanges.

Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Jawed Akhtar Bhatti said India and Pakistan should take lessons from the regional economic integration in other parts of the world like Europe, North America and South Asia.

“Our joint efforts in strengthening the regional trade will not only benefit us but other countries in the region as well,” said Bhatti urging the political leadership of India and Pakistan to take lead in regional integration.

South Asia is the world’s least-integrated region. According to a World Bank report, intra-regional trade in South Asia is less than 2 percent of GDP, as compared to over 20 percent in East Asia.

Intra-regional trade in South Asia is less than five percent of the total regional trade, while regional investment is almost non-existent.

Hostile political relations and high cost of trading across the borders, despite the geographical proximity, are the main reasons for low trade.

People-to-people contacts are also very low in the South Asia region, where only seven percent of international phone calls are regional as compared to 71 percent in East Asia.

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