As Saurav Ganguly leads his team to Pakistan on March 10, it is a different ball game of relations with that country. Thanks to some bold peace initiatives by the Vajpayee government, the situation has changed so dramatically that a high-voltage political conflict has given way to cricket and visits by a spate of Pakistani business teams.
A delegation of Karachi Chambers of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) came to Delhi and soon afterwards was followed by the Lahore Chambers of Commerce and Industry (LCCI). Then, there is a ?Made in Pakistan? exhibition showcasing the Pakistani merchandise to Indians at Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi.
On their part, two top Indian chambers?Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce (FICCI) and Industry and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) not only played good hosts but also took some laudable initiatives. CII, for instance, has announced to open its Pakistan Chapter in Lahore.
FICCI is instrumental in organisation of the ?Made in Pakistan? show. Last week when KCCI members called on Commerce and Industry Minister Arun Jaitley, they sounded somewhat over-ambitious in suggesting joint ventures in certain areas like textile machinery. But then, many of them realised themselves that they were moving much too fast. Some Karachi industrialists pointed to the problem created by the tough visa regime which, despite claims to contrary from both the governments, cannot be relaxed much in the face of feelings of mistrust that still prevail.
It is true that cricket has become a multi-million dollar business which did influence the forthcoming Indian tour of Pakistan. However, trade and serious business are not the same thing. You need commitment of huge sums of money which would not come unless the entrepreneurs of both sides realise that the peace will last this time round. While businessmen from Karachi focused on trading, their Lahore compatriots gave an impression as if they wanted to have the cake and eat it too.
When the Indian industry drew their attention to Pakistan not granting the MFN (most favoured nation) status, the Pakistanis were not forthcoming. They raised the bogey of Indian agriculture being so over-subsidised that it could easily drive out the Pakistani products in Islamabad, Karachi or Lahore.
They may have their own reasons for not relaxing the MFN status for India, but the argument sounded similar to that of the developing countries against Europeans and Americans and WTO negotiations. You bet, next time Pascal Lamy visits India and is confronted with the question of European farmers being over-subsidised to the detriment of Indian agriculturalists, the European Trade Commissioner will quote his counterpart in Pakistan.
?We have to give them a comfort level,? Arun Jaitley commented. The Commerce and Industry Minister knows that giving comfort to Pakistanis at this level may cost us dearly but he is hoping for a repeat of India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Islamabad.
When India signed the FTA with Sri Lanka, there was a hue and cry about the domestic market being thrown open to the island nation. What was the result? Sri Lanka ships goods worth only Rs 400 crores as against Indian export to Sri Lanka crossing the figures of Rs 4,000 crores.
In fact, Jaitley is trying to do the same with Bangladeshis, who seem to have learnt from the Lankan experience and are cagey about the entire proposition. How is that Indians stand to gain if trade was to be opened across the Pakistani border? Well, a good chunk of the market is waiting for Indians?in pharmaceuticals, entertainment, automobile components and engineering goods, to be specific. In food commodities, there could be some bargain with Pakistanis buying our surplus tea and we picking their rice and adding to our granaries.
Indian medicine is four times cheaper than that of the multinationals who, at the moment, dominate the Pakistani market and enrich themselves at the cost of the poor people of the sub-continent. The cost difference is equally evident in automobiles, particularly small cars.
Insofar as Bollywood is concerned, the Lahore and Karachi bazzars are abounding in Indian music and video cassettes, though obtained through Dubai.
Legalisation of trade would mean big business to Bollywood producers. Although unofficial trade is quite high, the official business between India and Pakistan is to the tune only Rs 400 crores. Indian shipments are worth Rs 274 crores and imports amount to Rs 128 crores. This is peanuts, given the size of the two markets and the presence of counterfeit trade that is a loss both to India and Pakistan but a gain to Dubai.
The visit of a delegation of Karachi Chambers of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) was followed by the Lahore Chambers of Commerce and Industry (LCCI). Then, there is a ?Made in Pakistan?? exhibition showcasing the Pakistani merchandise to Indians at Talkatora Stadium.