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Will opening Wagah border boost trade ties?

Thursday 28 July 2005, by MURALIDHAR REDDY*B.

Garlic from India arrives in Pakistan on Tuesday; minimum trade linked to Kashmir issue

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CHANGING HANDS: An Indian porter hands over a sack of garlic to a Pakistani porter at the Wagah border checkpost on Tuesday.

ISLAMABAD: With the arrival of garlic consignments from India to Pakistan on Tuesday via the Wagah land border, the prospects of trade through the route have brightened albeit in a limited way.

Islamabad on May 9 allowed the import of five specified food items free of tax via the land border to tide over shortages in the domestic market.

But it took a while for the decision to be implemented, as Pakistan had not formally approached India for these imports. Exporters from India have to take special government permissionto send these items, categorised as essential commodities.

Prior to sending the garlic consignment, Indian exporters transported potatoes and tomatoes. However, it is not immediately clear whether these came by rail or sea or through the Wagah land route.

Transit trade

India has been urging Pakistan to open up the land borders for transit trade. However, Islamabad is not ready to concede the request. Now most imports from India arrive by rail.

As things stand, Pakistan is not ready to review its policy. In the export-import policy unveiled last Friday, there was just a one-word reference to India. It said border terminals, including Wagah on the Indian side, would be upgraded to facilitate "international trade."

Pakistan has followed the policy of minimum trade with India on the plea that pending resolu)tion of the Kashmir issue it is not feasible to consider comprehensive economic ties. Now it allows import of 700-odd items on the `positive list’ from India.

After the April 2003 peace process,India and Pakistan constituted a joint study group to explore better economic cooperation. In recent weeks, Pakistan allowed the import of five specific essential commodities. New Delhi has recently communicated to Pakistan that the Wagah land border is open for import of these commodities and therein lies the significance of the decision to upgrade the Wagah border terminal.

See online : The Hindu

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