India-Pakistan border trade may see a boom
The Attari-Wagah international land border between India and Pakistan in Punjab has been witness to two wars and has troopers guarding it round the clock, but things could change for the better in 2013 as trade through the crossing is set to expand exponentially.
Pakistan has agreed to allow trading of up to 6,000 items from the current 137 via the land border route. This means that trade between both countries could go up by at least five times in the next three years.
"Export from the Attari-Wagah border currently stands at Rs.2 billion (USD 44.5 million). It will rise to Rs.10 billion (USD 222 million) in three years and Punjab has to be prepared to reap the benefits to the fullest," Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said.
The modernised integrated check post (ICP) at Attari, on the Indian side, which has the feel of an international airport, is ready to tackle the higher volume of traffic as more items are traded through the land route. The state-of-the-art ICP, spread over nearly 120 acres and built at a cost of Rs.1.5 billion (USD 33 million), has dedicated terminals for cargo and passengers. It was inaugurated in April.
Modalities for allowing trade of more items will be worked out during Badal's proposed trip to Pakistan next month with a delegation of industry captains.
Badal said Punjab Chief Secretary Rakesh Singh had recently visited Islamabad and "the Pakistan government had agreed to allow export of 6,000 items through the land border route".
He said Pakistan had decided to also allow export of equivalent items through the Karachi port.
The check post is around 30 km from Amritsar in India and 20 km from Lahore in Pakistan. Both cities are major trading centres.
With enhanced trade, the cost of the items the neighbours import from each other is likely to fall considerably.
Most of the trade between India and Pakistan is currently done through the Mumbai and Karachi ports - pushing up costs and eating up time due to shipping.
"Till now, only 137 items are allowed for trade through the land border. Costs will go down and goods will be traded faster if more items are allowed," said Gunbir Singh of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
In July, Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma had said that trade through the land border would soon be allowed through containers instead of sacks and gunny bags.
Both the countries had allowed restricted entry of trucks to carry goods in October 2007.
Pakistan also took out a number of items from the negative list in March and assured India of granting most favoured nation (MFN) status by the year-end.
India currently exports vegetables,fruits and livestock to Pakistan and imports cement, gypsum, dry fruits and other items from the neighbour.
The ICP is located about 300 metres from the zero line. Trucks from both sides do the loading and unloading there.
Officials of the Department of Border Management said the check post had a dedicated cargo area of 4,700 square metres. It also has an area of 55,000 square metres for the parking of trucks.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at email@example.com)