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78 items freed, but India Inc is clueless

May 08, 2003 14:19 IST

The day after Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali announced that he was adding another 78 items to the list of permissible exports from India, the contents of the list remain a mystery.

While commerce ministry officials say they are yet to get hold of the list, FICCI has also run up against a blank wall while contacting various chambers of commerce in Pakistan through the day.

"The prime minister's statement suggests that these are new items which can be exported," says FICCI Secretary-General Amit Mitra, "but we'll have to see the list in order to see if the gesture is a meaningful one -- it's possible that these 78 items are really those banned earlier. We hope, however, that they are new items."

Over a period of time, Pakistan has cleared a list of around 600 items -- mainly raw materials -- which India can export to it. In November 1998, however, under the SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement, Pakistan also offered a list of 248 items that could be imported from SAARC members including India at a preferential import duty.

Yet, 73 items of this list were not on the list of 600 items that India could export to Pakistan! Mitra's concern, indeed fear, is that the 78 items Pakistan's premier is talking of are largely these items.

India, however, allows Pakistan to export any goods since it has extended MFN status to it.

FICCI estimates the potential of Indo-Pak two-way trade in the region of around $4 billion today, or 16 times the current official trade of $250 million -- unofficial trade between the countries, primarily that routed through the Middle East, is around $1 billion.

Says Mitra, "If we can do $1 billion trade with Bangladesh, once there's political comfort between the two countries, there's no reason why we can't do four times this with a much larger economy like Pakistan."

India's trade with China, for instance, was just $1 billion three years ago, but following normalisation of relations, including a visit by Premier Zhu Rongji, trade has now trebled.

How important political comfort is can be judged from the sharp fluctuations in Indo-Pak trade -- two-way trade was $330 million before Kargil, and fell to $160 million in the following year.

While no sectoral estimates of possible Indian exports has been prepared, FICCI's optimism is based on the price differentials between India and Pakistan.

While a 10-tablet strip of popular antacid Zinetac costs around Rs 7 in India, that in Pakistan is Rs 100. Similarly, while Maruti's base-model car costs Rs 215,000, a similar variant in Pakistan costs Rs 300,000 or so.

Pakistan, in fact, imports inferior teas from Kenya at a much higher price than what Indian tea sells for, and iron ore is imported from Brazil despite India's ore being cheaper.
Sunil Jain in New Delhi