LAHORE  - Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry President Zubair Ahmed Malik has called for Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status for India and liberalized visa regime to boost bilateral trade.

Malik, who is in India as the head of a Pakistani business delegation participating at a roundtable on `India Pakistan Economic Relations: The Next Milestone’ organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in New Delhi, he said that strong political will was needed to realise the actual trade potential, which wan no less than 50 billion dollars per annum. He said the focus is to improve trade between two neighbours. Trade has long been tied to political issues between the hostile neighbours.

Bilateral trade between Pakistan and India has doubled in the last two years to $ 2.7 billion, which can be pushed up to $ 8 billion by taking some simple measures, said Zubair Malik. The FPCCI chief said that both the countries should ease visa restrictions to actualise the real potential, which would only flourish if free movement of people was allowed, tariff as well as non-tariff barriers were lifted, and issues like bureaucratic hurdles, high import tariffs and lack of infrastructure were resolved.

Zubair Malik said that FPCCI and FICCI had been working together for two decades to further bilateral economic agenda. FPCCI would extend full cooperation to FICCI in organising the second edition of the `India Show’ in Lahore from February 14 to 16.

“I believe that the Most Favored Nation (MFN) will not be a death knell for the Pakistan economy as regarded by some Pakistani sectors, it only suggests that for trade purposes a World Trade Organization (WTO) member country will not be discriminated by other member countries,” said Zubair.

Speaking on the occasion, Vikramjit Singh Sahney, President SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Senior Executive Committee Member of FICCI, said that political will on both sides was needed to exploit growing opportunities.

Gluzar Feroz, VP FPCCI, asked India to allow direct sales of certain items to Pakistan like chemicals, dyes and heavy machinery, which would reduce costs and improve relations.

Naeem Anwar, Minister of Trade at the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi, said Islamabad had completed the consultation and hoped that negotiations on issuing the MFN status to India would start soon.

India had already granted Pakistan MFN status in 1996 but Pakistan is yet to reciprocate the measure even though according to World Trade Organisation (WTO) norms, member countries are required to provide this status on a reciprocal basis.

Additionally, the Pakistani government has missed the December 31, 2012 deadline for phasing out its negative list regime for trade and to grant MFN status to India.

The deadline was missed as some business sectors in Pakistan raised concerns about awarding MFN status to India, Naeem Anwar added.

India’s Joint Secretary in the Commerce Ministry Arvind Mehta said on the occasion that if Pakistan grants non-discriminatory access to India, India will provide a reciprocal market access to Pakistan at a 0-5% duty rate, similar to what is being given to Bangladesh. Pakistan is losing out to Bangladesh by delaying granting non-discriminatory access to India, Mehta pointed out.