LAHORE - The bilateral trade between Pakistan and India has felt the heat of mounting tension between the two arch rivals, as the cross-border movement of truckloads through Wagah-Attari route has nosedived.

According to the Pakistan Customs officials, the number of trucks crossing over from India has reduced significantly to just 7-10 from the normal routine of 150 truckloads due to non-tariff barriers from Pakistan including security high alert, Customs checking, Rangers inspection and close investigation of phytosanitary quarantine department.

However, the number of truckloads going from Pakistan to India is almost constant in the range of about 100, officials said.

Following the suicide attack last year in November at Wagah border, the Pakistan Rangers have beefed up security measures, creating an atmosphere of high alert, removing all offices of customs clearing agents, importers and exporters, with vigorous investigation of all consignment from Indian side. As a result, the volume of export from India is sharply dropping for the last eight months, observed LCCI Standing Committee on Pak-India Trade Chairman Aftab Vohra.

Talking to The Nation, Aftab Vohra said that Pakistan industry particularly in Punjab has enhanced its capacity in view of catering Indian Punjab’s market. Now Pakistan has increased its export to India through value addition. Earlier, it was sending traditional items of dry dates, gypsum, cement and raw fabrics. After keeping in view of the demand of Indian Punjab, the Lahore, Gujranwala and Faislabad industry has developed itself, installing new machinery and enhancing capacity to add more value to their products.

He said that Pakistan is presently exporting textile industry chemicals, finished glass and finished fabrics with high value addition. He claimed that now Pakistan has put non-tariff barriers in place for Indian exporters, as it is vigorously involving phytosanitary quarantine department to check the quality of food items coming from India. “Most of the consignments are rejected and wasted at the border and dozens of shipments forced to return back after health related checking.” These measures have been adopted by the security as well as other agencies amidst mounting tension between the two neighbours, an importer of fruits and vegetables claimed, who did not want his name to be mentioned.

FPCCI President Mian Idrees said that efforts of both the governments should be focused on implementing the road map agreed upon by the two countries in September 2012 for bilateral trade promotion. In this regard, the grant of MFN status by Pakistan to India was awaited.

He said trade through Wagha-Attari needed to be expanded with improvement in ease of doing business by various essential steps such as streamlining of customs procedures, harmonizing standards, and improving testing and quarantine facilities. He said extension of working hours at the border facility, enhanced staffing and laying facility at Zero Point for B-2-B interactions without requirement for visa should be granted by the both sides.

SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry vice president Iftikhar Malik said trade and other issues should be dealt with separately and nothing should disrupt business activities between Pakistan and India.

Urging the NLC authorities to build a separate road for trade activities at Wagah border, he appealed to the authorities concerned to restore the offices of clearing agents immediately.

It is to be noted that trade between India and Pakistan through the Wagah-Attari route came to a halt in the wake of a suicide attack at Wagah border on Nov 2, 2014, which has not come to a normal routine yet.

Aftab Vohra said that in 2012, the then Commerce Minister had agreed to establish the Land Port Authority on trade through Wagah. The authority would be consisting of 50-50 representation from public and private sectors. However, the incumbent government did not implement this, which is vital for improving infrastructure at Wagah border to facilitate the trade, he observed.

He said that it was also proposed that the NLC and Pakistan Rangers would be looking after the defense related matter in the proposed land port authority to safeguard the security interests of the country, while the private sector would be assigned to cater to the day-to-day business of the Wagah port.

Businessmen said that since the present government had clearly given its view on business with regional countries particularly trade with India therefore all the concerned public and private sector entities should be on same page so that a collective approach and collective wisdom could be applied to put the Pak-India trade vehicle in top gear.