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India, Pak sign agreements in customs matters, trade grievances
September, 24th 2012

India and Pakistan today signed three agreements for cooperation in customs matters, redressal of trade grievances and conforming to quality standards to further normalise economic relations between the two countries.

"These agreements are expected to substantially facilitate bilateral trade mechanisms," a joint statement issued after the two-day commerce secretary level talks said.

These pacts are aimed at streamlining trade between the countries and seeking to remove irritants that have prevented bilateral trade from realising its potential.

Commerce Secretary SR Rao was here for the 7th round of talks on Commercial and Economic Co-Operation with his Pakistani counterpart Munir Qureshi.

The joint statement said both sides expressed satisfaction on signing of the agreements and directed the relevant authorities to frame rules and procedures to fully implement these agreements.

During the talks, Qureshi said certifications, licensing and lab testing are not the only non-tariff barriers (NTBs).

He said issues like delays in customs clearance, non availability of railway wagons for cargo transport, absence of direct flights or any problem which delays the clearance of goods with no end results or change, faced by importer/ exporter is an NTB.

He reiterated that concrete solutions for all such issues are crucial for ensuring market access in the Indian markets for Pakistani exporters.

It was also agreed that on the same pattern as mutual recognition agreement between Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and Pakistan Standard and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA), another pact between Export Inspection Council of India (EIC) and PSQCA would be signed.

"Both sides have already exchanged the draft texts and it was agreed to complete the internal approvals before the next meeting of the Commerce Secretaries," it said.

Further, it said, that in order to frame rules and procedures to implement the two agreements signed between the Customs Authorities, it was agreed that joint working group on customs would meet in the following month either at Karachi or Mumbai.

The statement said Pakistan has informed that summary for removal of restrictions on trade through land route has been moved to the Cabinet and said a decision to this effect is expected to be notified before October end.

It said Pakistan would transition fully to Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status for India by December as agreed earlier.

Both the sides also agreed to reduce their sensitive list under the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA).

"...before the end of 2017, India and Pakistan would have no more than 100 tariff lines in their respective SAFTA sensitive lists. Before end 2020, except for this small number of tariff lines under respective SAFTA sensitive lists, the peak tariff rate for all other tariff lines would not be more than 5%," it added.

As a part of this round of talks, representatives of the Civil Aviation Authorities of both the countries undertook discussions to ensure better air connectivity between New Delhi and Islamabad.

"It was noted that against an average of about 23 flights per week between New Delhi and other important national capitals of the SAARC countries, there is as yet no direct air connectivity between New Delhi and Islamabad," it said.

It was agreed that a Joint Working Group would be formed before 15th November to work out a more liberalised regime of reciprocal bilateral rights for commercial flights, to ensure economic viability of this air route.

This JWG would also explore mechanisms for more efficient courier services, it said.

Further, preliminary discussions were held on possibilities of better telecommunication linkages keeping in view the requirements of business communities of both sides for international roaming facilities.

"It was agreed that separate sub-groups on either side would take forward this dialogue. Commerce Secretaries would review thereafter," the statement said.

It said both the sides expressed satisfaction with the progress made in the bilateral trade relationship since last round of talks in New Delhi in November 2011.

Commerce Secretaries appreciated that better trading opportunities provided through land route would enhance mutual prosperity of the business communities and consumers of both sides of the border.

"They however, noted that there is need to further strengthen infrastructure on both sides.

"They directed the customs and the port authorities to resolve all the issues through mutual cooperation, harmonisation of customs procedures, provision of laboratory facilities, scanners, weigh bridges, cold houses, containerised services and automation of the business processes," it said.

It said that for this purpose, meetings of the Customs Liason Border Committee (CLBC) would be held on monthly basis.The two sides decided that outreach programmes may be held with the business communities on both sides, regarding the new investment opportunities, application procedures and regulatory issues.

It was reiterated that the road map drawn in the earlier Ministerial meetings, for liberalised and preferential trade regimes would be scrupulously adhered to.

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