The India-Pakistan Joint Business Forum will meet in February, 2014 to move further under the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).

"The whole purpose is to try to bring the two countries together on trade matters, as we believe bilateral trade between the two countries could surge to USD 26 billion within a decade from about USD 2 billion now," said Abdul Razak Dawood, a Pakistani representative in the forum.

"There is a lot of potential (for the trade to prosper). We all got to work to get there," he said after attending the South Asia Diaspora Convention here held from November 21-22.

The broad approach would be to move further under the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) which was agreed by South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in January 2004 and came into effect in 2006.

The forum first met in Islamabad in June 2012 and then in New Delhi on October 10, 2013.

Dawood said Pakistan's business community has strong interest in promoting trade within South Asia and with India. "We have recommended (to the Pakistan government) to give India the Most Favoured Nations Status. If Pakistan does that, then India, in a very short time, will reduce sensitiveness (on Pakistan-made products) to 100 tariff lines in about six months.”

"Pakistan has agreed that it would bring it down to 100 tariff lines in five years," said Dawood, also a member of the Pakistan Business Council that accounts for about 15 per cent of the country's total exports.

Except for sensitive products, duty on other products from the two countries could be reduced to between zero per cent and five per cent as per SAFTA agreement, he said.

Dawood said he would also like to see the development of South Asian Energy Market. "It is doable."

Pakistan could become an energy corridor for importing natural gas from Iran and Turkmenistan for supplies to India and onward to Bangladesh, said Dawood, chairman of Lahore-based Descon Engineering Ltd.

He pointed out Pakistani business community's concerns about India's double duty on imported products, which is levied at the central and state levels.

In Pakistan, the duty is just at federal government level, he said.

"SAFTA can only work if each country is not having unfair non-tariff barriers. We are hoping for that once the trade begins to progress and grow, these things would be ironed out gradually," Dawood said.

(Agencies)

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