NEW DELHI- Traditional foes India and Pakistan said Thursday they hoped to transform trade ties and boost peace prospects at the opening of the largest Pakistani commercial fair ever staged on Indian soil.
“There is no other option but economic partnership between India and Pakistan,” Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said at the launch of the four-day show in New Delhi, a sentiment echoed by Pakistani officials.
“We have to recognise our true trade potential… and leave our children with a legacy that ensures prosperity, harmony and peace,” Sharma said. “The two nations have opened up a new chapter with this exhibition.”
The “Lifestyle Pakistan” show’s opening came just days after President Asif Ali Zardari made the first trip to India by a Pakistani head of state in seven years, encouraging ties.
Pakistan has brought more than 650 business people to the Indian capital for the show as commercial relations improve between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
The neighbours have approved a most-favoured-nation accord to reduce taxes that hamper trade. Official two-way trade of $2.6 billion is heavily tilted in India’s favour but unofficial trade is estimated at up to $10 billion.
The show underscored hopes voiced by the two nations that boosting trade can help peace talks which India warily resumed last year after suspending them after the 2008 attack by Islamist gunmen on Mumbai that killed 166 people.
“A lot of movement has happened in the past year, normalisation is going very fast,” Pakistan Commerce Secretary Zafar Mahmood said.
India and Pakistan expected to formally announce by next month new visa rules to promote business travel between the nations, he said.
“In principle, the visa (rules) are finalised. But they need to be formally announced and approved” by the countries, Mahmood said.
The fair showcased products of Pakistan’s top jewellery, textile, furniture and clothes designers.
“We have the top brands of Pakistan, high-end fashion and creative work in this show,” Tariq Puri, chief executive of the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan, said. “We have never had so many quality people under the same roof.”
“This is Pakistan’s contemporary side,” he said, adding increased trade represented an “enormous win-win opportunity” for both neighbours.
The countries, which have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 — two over the Himalayan territory of Kashmir — are due to inaugurate a trading post Friday along their heavily militarised border. The move will sharply raise the number of trucks crossing daily to around 600 from 150 now.
The trading post at the Attari-Wagah crossing and Pakistan’s granting of most favoured nation trading status to India could nearly triple bilateral trade to $8 billion in two years, Indian industry chamber Assocham said.
New Delhi granted the status to Pakistan in 1996 while Islamabad has agreed to reciprocate by the end of the year.
The Pakistani exhibition follows a successful “made-in-India” trade show in the Pakistani city of Lahore in February.
Pakistani fair participants said they looked forward to more trade.
“We hope this new trade can overcome a lot of the misunderstanding between the countries and a new era of cooperation will start,” Mian Ahad, one of Pakistan’s leading furniture designers, told AFP.
“India is a huge market with 1.2 billion people. There’s a vast opportunity.”