Punjab seeks greater border trade with Pakistan
With trade between India and Pakistan growing steadily since 2007 when trucks from either side were allowed restricted access to the other country, Punjab now wants to open up border trade with its neighbours in a big way.
Traders in Indian Punjab and Pakistani Punjab want greater flexibility, particularly through the land route.
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has also been batting for more trade through the Attari-Wagah land route, besides supporting opening of more trade routes like Hussainiwala and Fazilka and people-to-people exchange programmes.
This week, Punjab Chief Secretary Rakesh Singh in fact accompanied an Indian delegation to Pakistan that was headed by Commerce Secretary S.R. Rao.
"If the trade is expanded through the land route, it will herald a new era of economic development. Opening of these border trade routes is the need of the hour," Badal recently said.
The 553-km-long border between India and Pakistan has been fenced with barbed wire and electrified to keep at bay terrorists and smugglers allegedly supported by Pakistan.
The Attari-Wagah border gate is the only point in Punjab where restricted movement of people and goods is allowed by both the countries.
The opening of an integrated check post (ICP) by India in April at Attari has raised the expectation of the trading community that the trade between the two countries would increase in coming times.
Pakistan has already announced that India would be granted most favoured nation (MFN) status by the end of this year.
At present, 137 items, including fruits, vegetables, livestock, cement, gypsum, dry fruits and paper are being traded through the land route - far smaller compared to the 6,000 items allowed to be traded between the two countries through the Mumbai-Karachi sea route.
"If trade of other items is allowed through the land route, which is much cheaper and financially viable, it will benefit the people on both sides," Amritsar-based trader Sukhwinder Singh said.
The new ICP, spread over nearly 120 acres and built at a cost of about Rs.150 crore, has state-of-the-art facilities with dedicated terminals for cargo and passengers. The ICP has integrated the services of immigration, customs, cargo and handling of trucks.
Trade between India and Pakistan is nearly USD 2.5 billion and is expected to go up 10 times with Pakistan initiating the process to accord MFN status to India.
As it is, India-Paksitan trade via third countries is estimated at USD 10 billion.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at email@example.com)