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’Now the agenda will be driven by businessmen: Commerce secretary’

Times of India

’Now the agenda will be driven by businessmen: Commerce secretary’

23 April 2012

TNN/Almost a year after he visited Pakistan to lay the foundation for a change in trade relations between the two neighbours, commerce secretary Rahul Khullar tells Sidhartha things have moved faster than anticipated. Excerpts from the interview

Did you anticipate things will move at this pace?

Nobody anticipated things would move so quickly. When I visited Pakistan in April last year, the atmosphere was despondent and people were cynical. But in the very first meeting we achieved a breakthrough in terms of an ambitious agenda of work for ourselves. We decided to move step by step without a big-bang approach . We set timelines and the commerce secretaries decided to meet every six months. This was backed with business to business tie-ups , including between industry chambers . Now the agenda will be driven, not by us, but by businessmen. The other big development is the trade infrastructure at the Attari-Wagah border. A lot of credit should go to our counterparts in Pakistan because they are going against the tide. Huge political capital has been invested, from the meeting of PMs to those between the commerce ministers.

Do the new facilities at Attari-Wagah mean trucks from Pakistan can come till Delhi?

No, they turn around at the border. Transit has not been talked about yet, it’s a difficult issue . Once trade is fully normal, you will get to issues of transit. Five years from now, you should have a situation where a truck loaded in Delhi can go to Peshawar or beyond.

What are the issues you are looking at now?

We need to first look at expanding the list of goods that can be traded through the land route since the integrated check post (Attari) is ready to cover the entire set of goods. Pakistan has to notify that but once it happens, you will see a boom in the two Punjabs. We need to move the electricity agenda forward. Petroleum is a commercial decision, where we need to finalize products , quantities and prices. Hopefully, visa rules will soon be simplified. Restrictions on FDI from Pakistan and banking will be sorted out over the next six months. Pakistan has modified the negative list and we had assured that we will reduce our Safta negative list by up to 30%. Essentially, we promised to move to MFN-plus trade, though we had not reached MFN trade with Pakistan. We need to complete that before July.

We are talking investment but isn’t it tougher than getting trade moving?

When trade starts expanding, investments follow . Pakistani teams carry back sweets from Haldiram. In a few years our people will realize it makes sense to open stores there and invest. It happens naturally, you don’t have to guide it.

Is there also a need to change the security mindset to boost trade and investment?

As confidence builds it will change. Some things do need to change. For instance, we cannot use our cellphones when we go to Pakistan. But you will need security precautions because there are a bunch of misguided elements whose agenda will not coincide with that of the state.