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'Country comes first, trade with Pakistan comes second'

September 27, 2016 14:31 IST

'Trade cannot take place when there is no trust.'

Dalip Sharma, Director, Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham), has been organising trade fairs with Pakistani businessmen, to promote business between the two countries, the volume of which has been abysmal at the best of times.

Whenever there is a good prospect of trade between the two countries expanding, Sharma says terror strikes set the clock back.

"India has always showed patience, but now a time has come that the message should be given to Pakistan that enough is enough," says Sharma.

"Kindly behave as a good neighbour. Don't get into terror activity as it is not good for you as well as us," Sharma tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

After the Uri terror attack, India has upped the ante to have Pakistan boycotted internationally. As a part of this measure, is it possible for India to halt its trade with Pakistan?

Trade cannot take place when there is no trust. Because of these (terror) incidents happening very often, the trust level is very low.

At the moment, with Pakistan, the trust level is in minus. In this kind of situation how can you expect trade to happen?

India as a country, in terms of our leadership, has given enough rope to our neighbour to engage in a peaceful dialogue.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi even went to Lahore for Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's birthday. We have invited them to all kind of programmes in India and in spite of that they are behaving this way.

What will be the impact if trade between India and Pakistan is completely stopped?

A majority of the trade between India and Pakistan happens through third countries. Cross-border trade is not used to the extent that it should have been.

When you talk of trade vis-a-vis the country's security and safety, I feel the country comes first, trade with Pakistan comes second.

Assocham says that out of India's trade volume of $641 billion in 2015-2016, total trade with Pakistan is a meagre $2.67 billion. Can we do away with that trade altogether?

Trade with Pakistan can improve only if they start behaving like a good neighbour.

In the case of trade, if the trust factor is negative, people would not like to trade because you are not sure whether your product and payment are safe.

We expect that Pakistan should not take us for granted, but behave with responsibility and act like a good neighbour.

What are our major imports from Pakistan and what are our major exports to that country?

We get a lot of minerals and cement from Pakistan. And from India we export a lot of fruits and vegetables.

Punjab will be affected if trade is stopped with Pakistan because a lot of products that come from Pakistan is used in Punjab and the products which go from here is consumed in Pakistan's Punjab state.

What are the trade routes that are open from India to Pakistan?

Wagah is one route from where trade takes place and the other is Jammu and Kashmir where goods are exchanged through the barter system.

Has trade between India and Pakistan ever been completely stopped in recent years?

There have been highs and lows. Our leadership had taken a good initiative (for trade), but when similar response did not come from other side, one also gives up patience.

What do Pakistani businessmen say about trade being affected because of bad relations between the two countries?

We have been working with the business chambers in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi and they too want good relations. They want trade between India and Pakistan to prosper, but Pakistani businessmen too have limitations.

Is it possible for India to withdraw the most favoured nation status granted to Pakistan?

As you know, although India granted the status to Pakistan a long time back, they have not responded in the manner they should have.

So we should put it on hold till the time Pakistan is not responsive enough in terms of how a neighbour should be.

Did you raise this issue with your Pakistani business counterparts as to why they have not extended MFN status to India?

They have always said they will take up this issue with the Pakistani government.

Will Pakistani businessmen be invited for international trade fairs in India in future?

Pakistan has called off the Alishaan Pakistan event, an annual event which was to be held in October in Delhi. Many other events that were to be held by Pakistani businessmen will be called off or be kept on hold till the situation improves and trust returns.

IMAGE: The Wagah checkpost between India and Pakistan. Trade between the two countries passes through the Wagah-Attari route. Photograph: Getty Images

Syed Firdaus Ashraf / Rediff.com