Here we go again The blow-hot-blow-cold saga of Pakistan-India relations continues and after a lot of fuss and blame game by India (since the Mumbai tragedy) the offer for talks was on the table again.
Whether the present development is on the behest of foreign powers or if it is just another ploy by the Indians to tease and play with the emotions and ego of the Pakistanis or it lacks seriousness and the necessary broad-base to be effective and result-oriented, is something only time will tell.
However, it is important that as the two sides go into negotiations for enhanced mutual cooperation, at least on trade and economic front certain misconstrued facts and misperceptions should from the very onset be placed in their correct perspective.
When it comes to free and fair trade, either in general on a global scale or in particular vis-a-vis Pakistan & SAARC, it is an open secret that India has a rather poor track record.
Both on the WTO forum and in its bilateral trade relations with various countries, the general complaints about India point towards it as being the: * Main culprit on account of NTB (Non-Tariff Barriers).
* Principal spoiler in reaching an agreement on Doha Talks at the WTO.
As for Indias trade relations with Pakistan, contrary to the perception that Pakistanis are afraid of liberalising trade as they fear that the Indian industry will capture the market and their goods will flood the country, making our own manufacturing redundant, it is actually the Indians that tend to shy away from accepting whenever concrete trade liberalisation proposals are made.
I remember when working as a steering committee member of The Two Punjabs Centre (a body formed to promote cooperation between the Pakistani Punjab and the Indian Punjab under the joint chairmanship of their Chief Ministers from 2002 to 07) every time we pushed for legislative changes to make cooperation in the selected fields of education, health and power tangible, it was the Indian side that dragged its feet to the point that the initiative either lost its essence in terms of timing or in value.
Also, the Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry (LCCI) floated a proposal for setting up common trade zones at joint borders with Wagah to serve as a prototype model, but it did not receive Indian approval.
The plan called for both countries to jointly provide for land, space and infrastructure that could act as a free zone in which businessmen, traders, professionals and people from other walks of life could set up businesses, restaurants, clinics, shops, etc.
, and where Pakistanis and Indians could go and have access to each others facilities.
Later on, these free zones could be expanded to also include larger projects like hospitals, industry, cinemas, schools, etc.
This way not only would the bilateral trade get a big boost, but such facilities would in reality also go a long way in improving bilateral relations, developing people-to-people contact, sharing human resource and serving as incubators to common future growth and development.
Sadly, while the Pakistanis pushed very hard for this initiative to be approved, the Indian side did not respond very positively.
If one were to drive to the Wagah Border and then move to India, one finds the shoddiness of roads and infrastructure on the Indian side as compared to ours quite striking.
And that explains the difference in the mindsets of the two sides when it comes to opening up bilateral trade and promoting it.
Actually, it may not be unfair to even say at this stage that India, instead of being a proponent of enhanced bilateral trade with Pakistan, tends to sabotage it and adversely targets Pakistans trade at the regional level.
A cursory glance at the SAARC Regional trade figures over the last decade tells it all: - India tends to dominate the intra-regional trade and on an output to GDP basis, Pakistan trading share is at the bottom within SAARC.
- On a per capita basis, Indian imports from Pakistan are the lowest amongst is total imports, whereas the reverse is true for Pakistan.
- Comparative access to India (meaning restrictions over and above as mentioned in the SAARC Charter) is mainly loaded against Pakistan.
And this list can go on and on So what is the way forward? Free, fair and enhanced trade is in favour of both countries provided there is reciprocity.
The sooner progress is made in this regard the better.
SAARC today happens to be a region with the lowest level of intra-regional trade.
However, for any meaningful results the efforts need to be led by the private sector of both countries.
Time and again bureaucracies of both sides have been the spoilers with their present notions, stubbornness and the tendency of 'nay-saying.
As an example, in spite of all the excitement and keenness witnessed at the First EU-Pak Summit back in June 2009, we are now approaching the second one in April 2010 and not only have we failed to achieve the desired results, but sadly have also lost the momentum during this last one year.
When the EU representatives and envoys are approached on this lack of progress, they openly cite our sheer incompetence and lack of professionalism as the main reason for implementation delays.
According to them, Free Trade Agreement with the EU stands stalled, as the Pakistani side is yet to do the required homework to take things to the next level.
Counter GSP proposal based on Pakistans 1.
50 per cent share for now and possibly the sought for waiver to qualify at 1 per cent level in 2013 (something is better than nothing) is on offer, but without any response thus far from our side, In spite of agreeing to jointly work towards achieving a WTO Agreement on Doha Talks, only one follow up meeting has been possible because they are not sure whom to talk to.
Last but not the least, absence of due facilitation on protocol has simply not allowed the EU to speed up social sector development funding in Pakistan.
Now if these are the impediments the EU is facing, which is one of the strongest friends of Pakistan, just imagine the red tape scenario in the case of India Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.
~ Lee Iacocca.
If the talks with India are to succeed vis-a-vis trade and investment, then a fresh approach to conduct the dialogue process needs to be evolved.
The private sector is a stakeholder in dividends accruing from success in talks.
Therefore, not only there has to be a paradigm shift in management by giving the private sector on both sides a lead role but, following in the footsteps of the China-India trade model, care also needs to be taken that things are done and necessary legislative changes are brought about without making too much 'noise