ISLAMABAD - The federal cabinet meeting, which was to take up the issue of granting Non-Discriminatory Market Access (NDMA) to India today (Friday), has been deferred due to some unknown reasons.

Government sources rejected the impression of divide among the stakeholders on the issue of granting NDMA status to India, saying the meeting was put off due to other pressing engagements of the PM, who would be proceeding to The Hague to attend the summit on nuclear security starting from Monday (March 24).

They said that government had completed homework for granting MFN status, which has been rephrased as NDMA, and all the stakeholders were taken on board before bringing the matter at the cabinet’s agenda.

The term NDMA was coined to avoid negativity associated with the word ‘MFN’ by the PML-N government to avoid criticism coming from the cross section of society, particularly the rightwing elements.

But some knowledgeable parliamentarians sitting on opposition benches termed the deferment of the matter a meaningful development, as according to them some powerful stakeholders in the system were strongly opposing NDMA status to India.

According to estimation of commerce ministry, the granting of NDMA to India would benefit the country’s economy up to Rs600 billion in shape of cheap commodities’ availability to the public at large, while India has already removed the hurdles in securing the status by accepting Pakistan’s demands of deletion of a number of items on their negative import list (from Pakistan) and agreeing to grant some extra favours to Pakistan by reducing or removing additional duties on certain goods in the coming months.

Though admitting the placement of NDMA status for India on the agenda list of the cabinet meeting, a source in the government said that the placement of any issue on the cabinet meeting’s agenda does not mean its approval and the matter could be deferred or returned back to the quarters concerned for review or spruce up.

Government sources said that now the next cabinet meeting would be held after the return of Premier Sharif from The Hague and the next tentative date of the meeting could be held on March 28 or it would further slip down in the first week of April. Sources dispelled the impression of any disagreement of government and armed forces on the issue of granting of special status to India. They say the matter of NDMA status is not in the interest of India alone as it would also greatly benefit the people of Pakistan in the shape of availability of various commodities on cheaper rates.

However, some parliamentarians in the ruling party, who did not want to disclose their identity, said the matter of granting NDMA status could be delayed till the next general elections in India (end-May) and formation of new government, giving government another three to four months to ponder on the issue and evolve its strategy.

PML-N sources defending the policy softness toward India said that the current deal with India on NDMA is totally in favour of Pakistan. These sources dispelled the impression of any damage to the local industries and informed that various sectors including agriculture, textile, pharmaceutics and automobile would be fully protected under the deal.

The sources further said that the balance of trade, which is right now in favour of India, would improve in favour of Pakistan with the chances of considerable enhancement of Pak exports to India.