Setting the tone for upcoming Foreign Secretary level talks, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee asked Pakistan to remove “obstructions” and allow “free flow of trade” and go beyond the expanded trade basket.
Acknowledging that Pakistan had “expanded the basket by adding 78 items,” Mukherjee said that to “operationalise (SIC)” the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), Pakistan has to abide by the conditions so “strenuously built up.” But he was hoping to “convince” Pakistan as it wants to encourage SAFTA for which it has offered very substantive tariff reduction to all the countries of the regional grouping.
India has invested a lot in getting the agreement going but is peeved that Pakistan is attaching bilateral conditions to a deal that is multi-lateral and is in violation of the agreement. India formally lodged protests with the SAARC Foreign Ministers’ Conference in Dhaka in August after which it was referred to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Council of Minister in September.
It is likely that this is another issue that will be discussed by the Foreign Secretaries next week.