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India-Pakistan Trade: Making Borders Irrelevant

By: Tara Beteille, co-authors: Kalpana Kochhar

In our blog post last November, we discussed Pakistan’s decision to grant India most favored nation (MFN) status. We were hopeful about the gains from easier trade between the two, but noted the many stumbling blocks in between. In the past 20 weeks, both countries have made serious efforts to address these blocks. Things are looking good. Here is an update.

Both countries mean business

In addition to the goodwill gesture of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari visiting India this April and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh considering visiting Pakistan, important issues addressed include:

  • Pakistan issued an order in March 2012 to move from a positive list of 2,000 items for India to a negative list of 1,209 banned items. Pakistan intends to phase out the negative list altogether and formally give India MFN status by the end of 2012.
  • India, which formally granted Pakistan MFN status in 1996 (but maintained barriers) has agreed to reduce its sensitive list of 865 items by 30% within four months. India has also agreed in principle to allow Pakistani foreign direct investment in the country.
  • Both countries recently agreed to allow yearlong multiple-entry visas for business visitors, with visitors allowed to enter and exit through different cities.
  • The two countries have agreed to allow each other’s central banks – the Reserve Bank of India and the State Bank of Pakistan – to open bank branches across borders to facilitate financial transactions and ensure smooth trade.
  • A second checkpost gate was inaugurated this March at the Attari-Wagah border to ease road traffic between the two countries. The checkpost, with elaborate security features and capable of accommodating 600 trucks at a time, will provide upgraded infrastructure, including new storage go-downs, wide roads, and a luxurious passenger terminal.

Opportunities and gains

Making borders irrelevant can have far-reaching effects for economic prosperity across sectors in Pakistan and India. Consider a key driver of growth: electricity. South Asia’s recent More and Better Jobs flagship report estimated that industrial load shedding in Pakistan has resulted in the loss of 400,000 jobs. Trade between energy surplus and deficit regions could counter such losses — indeed, Pakistan is already in negotiations with India to import up to 500 MW of electricity.

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